Environmental groups provide guidance on plan to restore Louisiana coasts
Last week, environmental group representatives used a request for guidance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) on how to move forward with its Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration (LACPR) plan,
which is being be developed to provide “Category 5” storm protection to residents of Louisiana, as an opportunity to provide constructive advice and highlight the need for Congress and the Obama Administration to get involved.
The National Wildlife Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana made several recommendations, including:
• The White House Council on Environmental Quality should convene the Coastal Louisiana Ecosystem Protection and Restoration Task Force, created by the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in 2007, but which has yet to meet
• The Corps should expedite the coastal restoration study required by WRDA and integrate it with the LACPR to create the comprehensive, scientifically sound plan needed
• Congress should fully fund already-authorized priority Louisiana Coastal Area Program projects, and the Corps should expedite their construction
The groups also took their requests to the media, urging the white house to get involved "because the job is not getting done."
The LACPR plan, which was mandated by Congress after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, is over a year late, has failed to incorporate initial feedback provided by coalition members and the National Research Council, and does not provide a set of recommended alternatives.
Coalition members have, however, praised the Corps for some aspects of the report, including acknowledging that continued wetlands degradation increases risk and must be stopped, as well as a strong emphasis on land use solutions to reducing risk.
New TV show dedicated to Louisiana wetlands restoration
WLAE-TV, a New Orleans PBS Affiliate, will air the third episode of its coastal restoration program, "Category Five/Wetlands Watch," this Friday, Aug. 7th at 8 p.m. The show is being produced to educate the public on wetlands erosion, potential restoration solutions, and the need for public involvement. Friday’s episode will feature an interview with Amanda Moore, Coastal Organizer for the National Wildlife Federation. She will discuss tools that citizens can utilize to advance restoration in local communities. Past guests have included New Orleans Times-Picayune Outdoors Editor Bob Marshall and the America's Wetland Foundation Chairman King Milling. Episodes are available online at www.categoryfivewetlandswatch.org.
Updated Atchafalaya management considered for benefit of coastal restoration
The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) recently acknowledged in the Baton Rouge Advocate
that looking at the roles of the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya rivers in coastal restoration provide an opportunity to maximize the restorative effect of systems as a whole. The National Audubon Society and other conservation organizations have been urging the Corps to study the benefits of sending more or less water and sediment down the Atchafalaya, depending on the time of year and restoration needs.
The Atchafayla receives 30 percent of the combined flows of the Mississippi and Red rivers through a series of dams called the Old River Control Complex, near Simmesport, LA. The rest of the Mississippi water flows to Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The Corps built the structures starting in the 1950s to ensure that water levels remained high enough to maintain shipping access farther down the Mississippi.
More dynamic management of Atchafalaya flows could provide land-building sediment below New Orleans and elsewhere and allow for more ecologically based management of the Atchafalaya swamp, the largest wetland forest ecosystem in North America.
Critical stakeholders echoed environmentalists' praise of the Corps for considering more dynamic management of the Old River complex. Louisiana Landowners Association Executive Director Paul D. Frey applauded “all of those individuals and government agencies now giving serious consideration to a reallocation of flow via the Old River Control Structure as part of a comprehensive approach to coastal restoration. We stand ready to work with everyone in making this long overdue solution a reality.”
Delay on Assistant Secretary appointment disappointing
At a time when change is desperately needed in order to address the restoration of coastal Louisiana and other important ecosystems, the U.S. Senate has yet to confirm an Assistant Secretary of the Army (ASA) for Civil Works.
President Obama nominated Jo-Ellen Darcy for the ASA on April 3, 2009. She has strong environmental credentials and has worked for the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the State of Michigan. Even though she was confirmed by the Senate’s Committee on Environmental and Public Works soon after her nomination by the President, the full Senate has not yet made the decision to move forward.
This several month delay has left the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to operate without its key leadership position, which is not conducive to moving aggressively on coastal restoration projects.
Century-old article provides deja-vu look at coastal restoration
It is often assumed that the collapse of the Mississippi River Delta’s coastal wetlands system was an unexpected and inadvertent side effect of the development of the Mississippi River navigation and river flood control systems. However, blogger and long-time coastal restoration supporter Len Bahr recently uncovered an article from the December, 1897 issue of National Geographic Magazine showing a much more informed and deliberative choice by our ancestors.
Bahr’s recent post on the LaCoastPost blog links to and analyzes the article, written by Corps’ civil engineer E. L. Corthell. Bahr calls “attention to a provocative discussion that is even more apropos today than it was in 1897: flood protection vs. Mississippi Delta survival.” He goes on to describe the article as "déjà voodoo,” considering that it focuses on issues still important 100-plus years later, such as the lateral and vertical extend of the Delta, subsidence rate and Delta instability, sea level rise, and short term levee benefits vs. long term loss.
A scanned copy of the National Geographic Magazine article is available by visiting the post or downloading it here.
Amazingly, the original article forecasts the current problems, but anticipates that the nation would be able to use the vast economic benefits produced to return and mitigate the damages – or at least build a massive levee system to protect Louisiana communities from the encroaching sea.
Corps' approach to "Alternative Arrangements" for levee repairs and upgrades questioned
Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) met with the Commission on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) Associate Director for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Oversight this summer to express concerns about the lack of environmental protections on post-Hurricane Katrina emergency levee rebuilding projects.
To meet NEPA requirements, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be completed on proposed projects that have a major environmental impact, though “Alternative Arrangements” (AA) can be made in emergency situations as long as they meet the same standards. For emergency levee rebuilding projects after Hurricane Katrina, an alternative arrangement was developed that involved individual environmental reports for each action, along with a separate comprehensive environmental document for the entire project.
In the meeting, NGOs (Audubon Council, National Wildlife Federation, Gulf Restoration Network, Tulane Environmental Law Clinic and National Audubon Society) stressed that even though an expedited process was necessary, the implementation of the AA has not been adequately protective of the environment.
Specific concerns included:
- How the Corps exercises its discretion under the AAs
- How public comments are being incorporated into the process
- The cumulative impacts being overlooked because a Comprehensive Environmental Document (CED) required by the AA is not yet underway
- The need for an individual environmental report (IER) on the transportation of borrowed material
- The Corps' regulatory authority to prevent induced development.
Learn more about the process and submit comments on it here.
White Ditch Diversion Project study progresses
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are moving aggressively to complete a study on the White Ditch diversion project by 2010. This proposed diversion would be located on the Mississippi River downstream from New Orleans and almost directly across from the Myrtle Grove diversion.
The existing “siphon” was constructed in the 1960s for muskrat and oyster habitat and is not consistently managed with a thoughtful plan. The lack of infrastructure like roads, railroads, and buildings in the area makes it a good candidate for a diversion project.
During the study’s scoping hearings, key themes were sediment, size, and urgency. Stakeholders wanted large amounts of sediment from the diversion in hopes of restoring the 41 square miles of marsh that hurricanes Katrina and Rita damaged. Accordingly, the study will consider the nominal authorized amount of water and sediment diverted from the river, which is 15,000 cubic feet per second (CFS), as well as larger amounts up to 100,000 CFS.
Also under consideration are the size and type of the structure needed to effectively capture and divert sediment into the receiving wetlands. The structure will facilitate control and the study will consider operation of the structure to maximize land building benefit.
Given the many diversions being planned along the river, operational regimes may also consider rotating operation among diversions to maximize sediment capture and minimize impacts to navigation.
Additional information on the study can be found online and via a fact sheet.