Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, (R-New Jersey) chair of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Committee has released his Energy and Water Appropriations Bill for 2013. This bill covers appropriations for the Department of Energy (Nuclear Security, Gasoline prices, Energy programs, Yucca Mountain, Science Research, Environmental Management) the Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Reclamation.
The New Orleans Picayune took note of the fact that Mr. Frelinghuysen’s bill, which includes $4.8 billion for the Corps of Engineers) included no money for Coastal Restoration. He wants to see the Corps of Engineers focus on navigation and flood control projects to the exclusion of environmental projects, including those requested in President Obama’s budget. He notes that such projects are “job creators.” President Obama had proposed $4.7 billion for the Corps budget for 2013, including $16.8 million for ecosystem restoration in Louisiana.
So, what is the value of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands?
From The Mississippi:
“Before Katrina and Rita (seven years ago) tore through Louisiana’s coastal marshes, the environmental and economic necessity of a healthy system of wetlands was little understood outside the state. After Katrina and Rita we finally understood that Louisiana’s coastal wetlands buffer storms. But, we still needed to learn that they absorb nutrients, sediment, and contaminants. They serve as the breeding, spawning, feeding, and nursery grounds for fish and shellfish at some time in their life cycles. Summer flounder, spotted seatrout, snook, tarpon, and others spawn in the Gulf, migrate to their freshwater nurseries in the summer, and return to the Gulf when temperatures drop in the fall. So do juvenile brown and white shrimp. Migratory birds rest on Louisiana’s barrier islands on their annual migration from Central and South America. Waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds colonize its freshwater marshes, attracted by their diverse menu of fish and shellfish, broad-leaved plants, tall grasses, and shrubs. The marshes provide habitat for the endangered brown pelican and seventy pairs of bald eagles. Furbears–nutria, muskrat, mink, raccoon, otter, bobcat, beaver, coyote, and opossum–thrive in the marshlands. The American alligator–once endangered, now abundant–nests along the banks of coastal freshwater marshes.
“Louisiana’s commercial fishermen harvest 1.1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish including shrimp, crabs, crayfish, oysters, and finfish, up to twenty percent of the nation’s catch, valued at $2.2 billion a year to Louisiana’s economy. Recreational anglers contribute $944 million. More than forty percent of the nation’s fur harvest comes from Louisiana. Louisiana’s alligator farmers take eggs from the wild, hatch them in captivity, return some to the wild, and harvest the rest, netting $9.3 million in skin and meat.
“Louisiana’s three million acres of coastal wetlands are more productive than many agricultural lands, and they are disappearing at the rate of twenty-five to thirty-five square miles a year. If the loss continues at that rate, commercial and recreational fish would decline by 30%, putting up to 70,000 jobs at risk state-wide. Migratory birds dependent on the marshes might decline, having an impact on the rest of the country, on duck hunters, on bird watchers. Fur trappers would see the loss of a $1.3 million industry. The cost of treating drinking water would rise, along with the cost of salt and other minerals taken from the coast. Alligator meat might once again become a delicacy.”
The Flood of 2011 demonstrated the value of the Mississippi River and Tributaries project in mitigating the severity of a very severe flood. The project was started in the aftermath of the 1927 Flood and is almost complete. It is also as responsible for the decline of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands as any other factor. Levees extending almost to the mouth of the Mississippi have prevented the river from nourishing the wetland with fresh water and sediment every time it floods. All that water and sediment from last year’s flood was flushed into the Gulf of Mexico, where it went unused for coastal restoration. But the river and tributaries project is almost finished. The levees are built. The floodways work. The reservoirs on the tributaries that retain floodwater in the uplands until the Mississippi can handle it are done.
The job of the Corps of Engineers in the 21st century should be ecosystem restoration on the Louisiana coast and on the Upper Mississippi, where the work of the 20th century has done so much to destroy wetlands.