Turning diversion skeptics into believers
A recent field trip to the Atchafalaya River’s Wax Lake Outlet convinced skeptics, and reinforced believers, that river diversions can move large amounts of sediment to help reverse land loss, nurture existing wetlands and build new land – despite sea level rise.
The field trip included 30 people from the Louisiana Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation and its diversion subcommittee, the Governor’s Office, the State Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department, members of the navigation industry, environmental groups and scientists.
“While touring the outlet, we saw first-hand the firmness of some of the new delta when we walked around on a new piece of marsh,” said Jim Tripp, general counsel for Environmental Defense Fund and a member of the Louisiana Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation. “Here we walked on new land, where in the parts of the delta cut off from sediment supply you'd either sink to your knees or just drown in open water.”
The tour kicked off the July meeting of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation, which focused on Wax Lake and West Bay Diversions. The meeting also included a legislative update and a presentation from the Louisiana Coastal Engineering and Science Program.
Cap-and-trade could help fund coastal restoration
Investing in coastal restoration will help safeguard communities and wildlife from the damaging effects of climate change and federal climate legislation could provide much needed funding for such projects.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which establishes a cap-and-trade system that would put a price on global warming pollution. A portion of the funding generated by this legislation - $1.7 billion annually during the 20 years after the legislation is enacted - would be sent to a Natural Resources Climate Change Adaptation Fund. State and federal agencies working on restoration would receive allocations estimated at a total of $8.67 billion over the course of the first 20 years from the adaptation fund.
These numbers do not include the potential for funding restoration through the sale of greenhouse gas offsets. Since preliminary science showing that healthy coastal wetlands may be a significant net-greenhouse gas sink, the offsets section of the bill may also mean that the private sector will be lining up to buy many millions of dollars worth of wetlands restoration.
The Senate is expected to take up this legislation in the fall and advocates will push for additional increases in natural resource funding.
Sustainable homes for bayou communities
The final touches are being put on the 4th Louisiana Lift Home in the bayou community of Dulac, Louisiana. Miss Mary Verret, a member of the United Houma Nation, is the proud owner of the home, which was designed by a group from the Massachusets Institute of Technology in partnership with Oxfam America and Terrebonne Readiness and Assistance Coalition (TRAC). The elevated home was designed to be storm-resistant and affordable for at risk bayou communities.
The Louisiana Lift Home was designed to ensure that bayou communities can maintain their ties to the land and water and reduce risk in the face of hurricanes, sea-level rise and coastal land loss.
Homes are elevated between 10 and 14 feet above sea-level; save energy to keep utility bills low, use innovative insulation and wall construction; and are designed to weather a Category 5 Storm - all for an average price tag that makes homes available to low-income bayou residents.
Hurricanes Gustav and Ike gave the first three Louisiana Lift Homes their first real world test and all three weathered the storm, while many neighboring homes that were not storm-proofed suffered.
“This house can serve as a model for home construction in southern Louisiana, but also a model for coastal construction around the country” said Peg Case, executive director for TRAC. TRAC will break ground on two more homes this summer.
Mississippi drowning? Limited sediment can be used effectively
A paper recently published in Nature Geoscience by two Louisiana State University researchers titled: "Drowning of the Mississippi Delta due to insufficient sediment supply and global sea-level rise," has some journalists reaching a knee-jerk conclusion: coastal restoration projects are doomed to fail because the Mississippi River can't feed enough sediment into marshes to prevent catastrophic land loss. (Read a follow-up letter to the editor from the paper's authors.)
As the Coalition To Restore Coastal Louisiana's Steven Peyronin pointed out, "The press missed the real story here. The Roberts article specifically states that we can sustain parts of our coast, but we have to use the sediment that we have strategically." In his article, Professor Roberts wrote "diversions that disperse sediment into partially submerged or still emergent areas farther upstream will build or sustain more land-surface area with the available sediment supply...."
Marine scientist Donald Boesch, President of the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science, points out that the paper actually tells us how important strategically placed diversions are. Under the right circumstances, they could even exceed historical sediment-trapping rates, he says, which means that coastal restoration projects should continue - and speed up if possible.
As the original article highlights, time is of the essence: "Every decade of delay will increase the mass balance deficiency by more than a billion tons of sediment."
"It is well recognized that even under the best circumstances, the Louisiana's coastline won't look like it did 100 years ago," said Boesch, "but continuing with diversion projects and working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are more important than ever for saving and restoring coastal wetlands - which provide benefits to people and wildlife."
Protecting and restoring Louisiana's oyster reefs
Louisiana’s natural and self-sustaining communities of oyster reefs are a critical feature of its coastal ecosystem. They also provide extensive benefits, such as hurricane protection, an enhancement to commercial and recreational fisheries and promotion of a “living shoreline,” where diverse ecological communities thrive. However, years of shell mining, altered freshwater flows and changes in hydrodynamics have degraded the once vast amounts of self-sustaining oyster reefs along the Louisiana coast. In response, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have undertaken projects to protect and restore this natural resource.
CRCL recently published a position paper to advocate for the protection of the few remaining historical oyster reefs left. TNC will be working with its partners to restore nearly four miles of artificial vertical oyster reefs to dissipate wave energy, accrete sediment, and create fisheries habitat in selected areas north of Grand Isle and in the Biloxi Marshes of St. Bernard Parish, using Reefblk and Oystercrete frames.
Proposed federal coastal restoration spending up three-fold
The Louisiana coalition’s work on increasing coastal restoration spending is making huge strides in both the House and Senate.
While total spending for coastal restoration in Fiscal Year ’09 was slightly more than $8 million, the full House has appropriated $23 million and the Senate Appropriations Committee has appropriated $26 million for FY ’10 – all for coastal Louisiana restoration and protection programs.
Unfortunately, none of the major sediment diversion projects are currently funded for construction because they are considered “new starts.” Neither the full House nor the Senate Appropriations committee allowed for these “new starts” to be funded in the money they’ve appropriated, so money must be spent on investigation and studies, not actual construction. Changing this provision will be the Louisiana coalition’s top priority in FY ’11.
Both appropriations bills that include this increased funding are within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil work budget. The Senate is expected to act on its bill after its annual August recess. The legislation is expected to be signed into law by the President sometime in the fall.
NOAA commits $3+ million to innovative marsh restoration project
Five hundred of acres of marsh set to be restored around Bayou Dupont will increase by an additional 50 acres, thanks to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s approval of a $3.025 million proposal by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for the Mississippi River Sediment Delivery System at Bayou Dupont. The project will build marsh by pumping sediment from the Mississippi River for five miles via pipeline to a marsh restoration site in the Barataria Basin, southeast of the town of Lafitte.
The Bayou Dupont Project breaks new ground for coastal restoration in Louisiana because it is the first time sediments from the Mississippi River have been transported through a pipeline to build wetlands outside the river’s levees. The area of the river where the sediments will be dredged was picked specifically because it will fill up with sediments again.
“This project is a critical step toward using more dredged material from our own soil – and it represents our understanding of the importance of beneficially using this sediment to rebuild our coasts,” said Governor Jindal.
The Bayou Dupont site sits within the area that is slated to be sustained and restored by the Myrtle Grove sediment diversion project, providing an example of how different techonologies can be used together to maximize restoration benefit.