By David Muth, National Wildlife Federation
On June 22, members of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign visited the West Bay Sediment Diversion site to make a preliminary assessment of effects of the great Mississippi River flood of 2011. What they found exceeded expectations. Standing where flood water had risen to waist deep level or even deeper, they now stood in ankle deep water on a hard sand bottom. Based on this observation, there is every expectation that when the Mississippi flood waters completely recede, new land will emerge in the delta and marsh plants will begin to colonize it.
The West Bay Sediment Diversion Project, which began as one of the great early hopes of the Coastal Wetland Planning, Protection, and Restoration Authority (CWPPRA) program, recently has become a problem child, derided as a failure, and blamed on dubious evidence for causing shoaling in an anchorage downriver. The concept was simple: to build a bigger version of the many uncontrolled artificial crevasses that have been used quite successfully – 50,000 cubic feet per second, equal to the volume of several Colorado Rivers – on a very small scale, to sustain the sinking Bird’s Foot Delta over the last few decades.
However, when rapid emergence of land failed to materialize as it had on so many smaller projects, diversion skeptics pounced, claiming it proved that large-scale sediment diversions could not work quickly enough to help save coastal Louisiana. For a host of reasons, those criticisms were unjustified. Unfortunately, the navigation issue, which had driven up the cost of the project because it required that additional dredging be covered by CWPPRA, seemed to be the nail in the coffin. As a result, the CWPPRA Task Force has voted to de-authorize and close the diversion, killing the project.
Fortunately, the reports of death were premature. CWPPRA now will be faced with a dilemma: the diversion is working, rebuilding marsh that disappeared over the last 50 years. In addition, it is saving precious sediment from drifting into the deep gulf and being wasted. How can the Coastal Wetland Restoration Authority kill a project that is building marsh?
Conservation groups expressed support for Louisiana’s swift action to identify and propose potential restoration projects that qualify for BP’s $1 billion down payment toward the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) stemming from the unprecedented Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Louisiana’s release of its project list is an important step toward getting restoration projects underway, but BP, federal and state trustees must approve the projects before the state can proceed.
“We applaud the state of Louisiana’s efforts to move swiftly in assessing a long and complex list of restoration project proposals against early NRDA criteria,” said the joint statement. "We don’t have time to wait for restoration, so it’s imperative to expedite the evaluation of these projects to determine if they begin addressing damages from the unprecedented Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We’re very hopeful that the pace set by the state of Louisiana will continue as the selection process moves forward with the Natural Resource Trustees and other parties.”
Continue reading this story here.
By Maura Wood, National Wildlife Federation
To kick coastal restoration into high gear and to create a sustainable coast, reconnecting the river to the marsh in a controlled way and allowing the delivery of sediment is key. Sediment deposited through marsh-building diversions will build an ever-expanding platform which, as it grows, will become vegetated. This vegetation will trap more sediment, leading to even more land growth. This mimics the natural processes that built our coast and offers hope of creating a sustainable coastal area that can hold its own in the face of sea level rise and other stressors.
Still, there is doubt among the public about whether diversions can really build land, much of which is based on experience with two existing diversions: Caernarvon and Davis Pond. What is lost in much of the discussion is that these structures were not intended to be "marsh-building" diversions. They were built and intended as "freshwater" diversions, designed to impact salinities in the estuaries east and west of the Mississippi River.
Now we have an opportunity with the Myrtle Grove Medium Diversion and Dedicated Dredging Project to consider how to design and construct a marsh-building diversion that takes maximum advantage of the sediment and water in the river to build land. A new film, "Mending the Marsh: Local Support for Myrtle Grove", examines the Myrtle Grove project and its associated opportunities and challenges. This video is part of a series that will illuminate the promise of marsh-building diversions as critical components of a sustainable coast.
Continue reading this story here.
In the fourth installment of our Faces of the Delta series, you will meet John Koeferl: retired carpenter and environmental advocate, fighting to protect "the wetland of our nation."
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
Name: John Koeferl
Location: Holy Cross/Gentilly Terrace, New Orleans, Louisiana
Occupation: Retired carpenter, environmental advocate
Tell me about your connection to south Louisiana. I came to New Orleans for graduate school at Tulane and stayed here from then on—loved the city. I raised my family for 20 years in Holy Cross (a neighborhood in the Lower 9th Ward) and moved to Gentilly Terrace 10 days before Hurricane Katrina. (John and his wife kept their home in Holy Cross and are still very active in the neighborhood association there.)
What does south Louisiana mean to you? South Louisiana means home. New Orleans is a special place for me—a unique place on earth. It is not boring; nothing is straightforward.
How has coastal land loss impacted your life? It’s been awful. We lost our home in Lower Nine, our neighborhood. Almost everyone we knew was affected. Every house was flooded. We weren’t protected. We knew it was going to happen, but no one would listen. The Army Corps has an abusive process that favors special interests, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up.
Why do you think coastal restoration efforts are important? Restoration is important because the Mississippi River Delta is the wetland of our nation. The estuary is important. People have lived here for generations, making their living off the land. That’s all jeopardized.
Continue reading John's story here.