Louisiana and Corps embrace President’s new start budget request
Environmental Defense Fund
Officials from Louisiana and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) both spoke publically last week about the importance of President Obama’s request that Congress start construction funding for the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) restoration program.
State of Louisiana
Louisiana's top official for coastal programs, Garret Graves, emphasized several positive points in a meeting of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration, and Conservation:
- Coastal Louisiana restoration was one of only two requested “new start” construction programs in the nation.
- The Department of Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency also made coordinated funding requests.
- The request was made a priority even though President Obama was proposing a ten percent overall cut for the Corp’s budget.
A critical element of the request is that it will fund the overall LCA program with $19 million, rather than specific projects. If Congress approves the president's funding request, it will allow the Corps to move forward all of the authorized LCA restoration projects and to coordinate with state and federal agencies to find hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding to complete the projects. If Congress does not approve the funding, the Corps will remain unable to move ahead with the program as a whole.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The Corps’ Deputy District Engineer Tom Holden and Chief of Projects in the New Orleans District Mark Wingate also made a presentation to the Governor’s Advisory Commission describing the LCA projects that will be funded immediately, including beneficial use of dredge material and science demonstration projects. The presentation set out timelines for larger projects such as the sediment diversion at White’s Ditch, the Barataria Basin Barrier Shoreline Project, modifications to the Davis Pond Diversion, and the sediment diversion at Myrtle Grove.
State and Corps planners and officials are meeting this week to review project schedules and to confirm local sponsor driven decisions, such as the choice of available beneficial use placement sites and demonstration projects. The potential for beginning construction activities on one of the new diversion projects during Fiscal Year 2011 (Oct. 2010-Sept. 2011) also is being explored. Observers noted that the Corps and the state seem to be entering an era of increased and improved coordination on project schedules and priorities, undoubtedly driven by the Obama Administration’s increasing engagement.
Separately, the Corps held public meetings to present a “stakeholder update” on restoration program progress, projects, and timelines. A CD containing project summary factsheets and a set of maps highlighting active projects were distributed at the meeting. They also are available on www.nolaenvironmental.gov or by contacting Rachel Rodi at the District’s Public Affairs Office at 504-862-2587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
State joins Audubon, Moffatt & Nichol in Atchafalaya modeling effort
David J. Ringer
National Audubon Society
The National Audubon Society and engineering firm Moffatt & Nichol recently presented their Atchafalaya Basin hydrodynamic modeling work to the state’s Atchafalaya Basin Program (ABP) Technical Advisory Group and to the ABP’s Governing Board. “The state is interested,” says Audubon’s coastal scientist Dr. Paul Kemp. “It is an idea whose time has come.”
The ongoing modeling effort will result in a better understanding of how water and sediment move through the Atchafalaya system. The Atchafalaya River feeds the nation’s largest remaining river swamp and provides cultural and economic value to Louisiana.
In response to a request from Louisiana’s Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration, Audubon will integrate an ADaptive Hydraulics (ADH) component into the model for the lower, tidal portion of the system.
Kemp welcomes the state’s involvement in the process. “This means that our current modeling efforts will be used in future projects and that the state is getting out in front on this issue,” he says.
Within a year, the groups expect to develop a working suite of models ready for refinement and use in evaluating the management of the Atchafalaya system. Stay tuned to Delta Dispatches for more future on these modeling efforts.
Learn more about the ABP and its Technical Advisory group online.
Photo credit: National Audubon Society
Master planning without slowing restoration progress
Environmental Defense Fund
The near-term program authorized by Congress for coastal Louisiana restoration under the Louisiana Coastal Area section of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007 will keep bulldozers, dredges, and botanists busy for the next couple of years. However, there is broad acceptance that further comprehensive planning is necessary.
In the same legislation, Congress also required the Corps to complete a comprehensive plan to protect, preserve, and restore the coastal Louisiana ecosystem, and integrate it into the comprehensive hurricane protection study (LaCPR) that Congress previously ordered. Congress also directed that the restoration plan must be compatible with the State’s restoration and protection master plan.
A new Louisiana initiative to improve its State Master Plan could move the federal planning process forward by incorporating federal planners into the state’s planning process. The Executive Director of the State Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration, Steve Mathies, recently sent a letter and draft Memorandum of Understanding to the New Orleans District suggesting that the Corps meet its federal planning obligations by participating in the State Master Plan revisions. A collaboration between the Corps and Louisiana holds the promise of expediting the Corps study, which the Corps acknowledges is behind schedule It also could improve coordination and exchange information to produce a better final product.
Combining state and federal planning efforts into one integrated process helps cover all of the “multiple lines of defense:” levees, restoration, changed methods of home and business construction, land use, and evacuation planning. It sets a bold new path toward a healthy, sustainable coast and safer, more resilient communities.
New blog shows Louisiana's green job opportunities
Environmental Defense Fund
Wetland protection is critical to the survival of coastal Louisiana. In addition, it could serve as a potent catalyst for job creation in the lower Mississippi Valley.
To highlight the employment opportunities that a comprehensive system of coastal restoration and hazard mitigation could bring to southern Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has launched a new blog called “Restoration and Resilience.”
The blog will feature case studies, interviews with local residents and analysis from EDF’s coastal Louisiana restoration team and outside experts to show readers that coastal Louisiana restoration can be a great source of green jobs in design, construction and many other fields.
If you’re interested in learning more about green job opportunities in Louisiana, go online to the blog and begin leaving comments and questions for the authors. Or, follow EDF_Louisiana on Twitter to have new blog posts and other news delivered to you.
Is the Corps ready for the 21st century?
Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee released a new report criticizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s (Corps) efforts to implement reforms contained in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007. Committee members questioned Corps officials about the report and explored the plans of new Corps leadership to meet this challenge, starting with implementation of the WRDA 2007 reforms.
“The Corps has been slow to implement the programmatic reforms and projects in the law, and the results often have been inadequate and inconsistent with the statute and congressional intent,” said a Committee statement.
The report examines many issues, including the Corps’ failure to:
- Follow its mitigation requirements and monitoring
- Submit larger and controversial project proposals to an independent review
- Improve the quality of modeling and analysis
- Update its guidelines for project planning and implementation
- Streamline its project formulation and delivery process
Restoring big ecosystems at the heart of the nation’s economy – such as coastal Louisiana, the Mississippi River, the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, and the San Francisco Bay-Delta – will require an effective and multi-faceted federal effort. Transforming the Army Corps of Engineers from an implementer of 19th century management plans into a public works agency that supports states, resource agencies, and development agencies as they manage these ecosystems for ecological recovery and economic growth is a crucial part of this effort.
Exploring the Atchafalaya River
Karen Westphal and Melanie Driscoll
National Audubon Society
Below the Surface, a California non-profit that promotes nation-wide water conservation and quality in rivers and oceans, organized an Atchafalaya River canoe expedition Feb. 9-14. The group’s objective was to gain an understanding of the Atchafalaya River's ability to cleanse itself as it flows downstream, in comparison to the Mississippi River. This understanding also is important for coastal Louisiana restoration.
National Audubon Society’s Director of Bird Conservation for the Louisiana Coastal Initiative Melanie Driscoll and Atchafalaya River Basin Program Manager Karen Westphal joined the trip to help participants understand the rich heritage, resources and complex issues surrounding the Louisiana wetlands.
The expedition began on the Mississippi River by touring the Old River Control Complex. Then the group paddled the length of the Atchafalaya River to Morgan City. Participants met with local scientists, local fishermen and the nonprofit Atchafalaya Basinkeeper along the way. A craw fisherman took the group the rest of the way to the Atchafalaya Delta to complete their expedition.
To learn more about the expedition and Below the Surface, visit their Atchafalaya River webpage.
Local and national groups tour new surge barrier project
Amanda Moore and Maura Wood
National Wildlife Federation
A group committed to restoring the damaged ecosystem along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), the MRGO Must Go Coalition, organized a tour of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Surge Barrier
(Barrier) on Feb. 12 for scientists and community leaders in the Greater New Orleans Area. The Barrier – similar to a floodwall, but much larger - is located where the MRGO meets the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. The Barrier aims to achieve a 200-year storm damage risk reduction for some of the region’s most vulnerable areas: New Orleans East, metro New Orleans, the 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish. It is the biggest civil works project in the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).
The tour helped participants understand the level of protection provided by the Barrier and adjacent levees. This information will contribute to recommendations for the restoration of the ecosystem along MRGO that the MRGO Must Go Coalition will be making. During the tour, the Commander of the Corps' Hurricane Protection Office Colonel Sinkler gave a presentation. The Corps’ Senior Project Manager for the MRGO Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study Greg Miller also participated. Representatives from National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Gulf Restoration Network and Holy Cross Neighborhood Association attended as well.
Construction of the Barrier began in May 2009 and should be complete by 2011. To learn more about the project, visit the Corps’ website.