• The Mississippi: A Visual Biography by Quinta Scott

    "Great book and great blog - thanks for the first book I have seen that addresses the contemporary river, headwaters to gulf." Dan McGuiness, Audubon, St. Paul, Minnesota

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Restoring the Louisiana Coast

On June 15 President Obama pledged to restore the Gulf Coast, presumably from Texas to Florida. Louisiana knows what needs to be done. It just has never had the money to do what needs to be done.

Barataria Landbridge at Bayou Rigolettes where the Natural Resources Conservation Service is installing a wall to prevent erosion of the landbridge, a CWPPRA project

Twenty years ago Congress authorized the first Louisiana coastal restoration program, the  Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protections,  and Restoration Program (CWPPRA) or the 1991 Breaux Act. For the last twenty years Louisiana as been restoring its coastal wetlands bit by bit, but not enough to stop the wetlands from vanishing.

Hence, in 1998 Louisiana devised the Coast 2050 program, which came in at a cost of $14 billion and recognized the need to break away from the piecemeal restoration projects that did not accomplish the goal of restoring the wetlands. Louisiana set three goals in devising the program: restore the coast to self-sustainablity; restore tidal exchange by introducing enough freshwater at the head of basins to do so; restore the flow of water across landforms from fresh to salt marshes.

Jean Lafitte, Barataria Preserve

The program broke the coast down into four regions, and within each region provided a glimpse of the future in each region: What would the state of the wetlands be in 2050.  It breaks each region down into subregions and describes the habitats in each, the historic land loss since 1932 in each, the fish and wildlife which depend on each, and the infrastructure in each, previous restoration proposals (what’s be done and did it work), and what restoration is expected to achieve. For example the Barataria Basin is broken down into Lake Boeuf, des Allemandes, Jean Lafitte, the national park, and so on. If you want to know each sub-region is declining, read Section 3 of each appendix in the program.

In 1998 Louisiana knew what needed to be done, had a good idea how to do it, and much of that information is still relevant a dozen years later.

Fragmenting Wetlands in the Barataria Basin at Port Sulphur, Louisiana

In 2000 the state decided to concentrate on one basin at a time, the Barataria Basin, where land loss has been extreme. the New Orleans District of the Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources signed the Coast 2050 Feasibility Cost Share agreement to split the cost of two feasibility studies of wetlands restoration and barrier island restoration in Barataria Basin, quickly rolled it into one, and completed the Louisiana-Ecosystem Restoration Study in October 2003.

The George W. Bush administration balked at the $14 billion price tag on the whole of the Coast 2050 program and asked Louisiana to come up with a cheaper program, and devised restoration plans for the Barataria Basin that could be completed in 5 to 10 years. The Corps and the State completed the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Study (LCA Study) in 2004, which came in with a price tag of $1,995,981,000 billion, including studies of restoration problems outside the Barataria Basin.

Of the five pressing projects outlined in the LCA Study, only the closing of MRGO has been accomplished, but not the restoration of the wetlands destroyed when the Corps of Engineers dredged the channel in the mid-1960s.

The cost of restoration of the five pressing projects–restore the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO); divert freshwater along Hope Canal into the Maurepas wetlands in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin east of the river; restore the Barataria barrier shoreline; reintroduce freshwater to Bayou Lafourche to nourish wetlands in the Barataria and Terrebonne basins; divert water and sediment from the Mississippi south of New Orleans at Myrtle Grove into the Barataria basin–within the basin came to $864,065,000.  “Timid,” complained the National Research Council, but that was the state of coastal restoration on the eve of Katrina.

Bayou Lafourche at Donaldsonville

It still is, even though Louisiana and others came up with a bushel full of proposals after Katrina. The official state program is the Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast mast plane, published in May 2007. The most interesting is one I link to every chance I get: The Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy, which takes its cue from Coast 2050.

So here we are a week after President Obama’s proposal that we restore the Gulf Coast. We know the $$$$ figure for restoring Louisiana-$14 billion in 1998 dollars. The other states must have their own proposals, which will add to the cost. Florida already has the Everglades restoration project which comes in at $8 billion.

Congress authorized the LCA Study in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, but has never appropriated money for it.

Small CWPPRA projects are still happening.

And there is another program: the federal government collects $5 billion a year from companies, which drill off the Louisiana coast, but until 2007 Louisiana saw little of it. In 2003 Congress authorized the return of $250 million per year to be divided up between five states: Alaska, Alabama, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Louisiana devised the Louisiana Coastal Impact Program to spend the $523 million the state would received for coastal restoration between 2007 and 2010. It has funded more small projects.

All of this is more fully detailed in The Mississippi: A Visual Biography.

Copyright, 2010, Quinta Scott, All rights of images and words reserved.


2 Responses

  1. […] Less than a month ago I wrote about restoring the Louisiana Coast after President Obama’s speech promising to restore the Louisiana Coast. I listed the unfulfilled programs generated in the last twenty years to restore Louisiana’s Coast. […]

  2. […] we come to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. On June 15 President Obama pledged to restore Louisiana’s coast and put Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy and a former […]

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