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Coastal Day at the Capitol: Monday, April 4, 2016
Hunters and Anglers Know Coastal Louisiana
Hunters and anglers know Louisiana’s coastal waters and wetlands. They are tied closely to the wetlands, bays and bayous and understand there are few places in the world as beautiful and bountiful. Unfortunately, they have also watched first hand as their prized fishing and hunting spots have been lost to coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion over the last 80-plus years.
Despite these strong ties, the community of sportsmen has been underrepresented among the voices advocating for the restoration and conservation of coastal Louisiana. It’s time for that to change.
What can you do?
|Anglers and hunters from Louisiana and all across the world can make a difference when it comes to restoring coastal Louisiana by making sure lawmakers dedicate the funding needed to build large scale restoration projects|
Coastal Louisiana is a National Treasure
Louisiana has long been nicknamed “Sportsman’s Paradise.” With its wide expanses of swamps, marshes, bayous, beaches, lakes and bays, coastal Louisiana is home to some of the finest fishing, hunting and other outdoor adventures in the world. Hunting, fishing and exploring the coastal environment are deeply rooted in Louisiana’s rich and celebrated culture.
Pelicans at Isle Derniere, one of Louisiana's barrier islands.
The Mississippi River Delta is critical to the food web throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Its fertile waters have a wide variety of salinities that provide vital habitat for oysters, shrimp, crabs and many species of fish. For example, juvenile shrimp and blue crabs seek protection in brackish coastal marshes until they grow older and are ready to move out to the open Gulf.
Commercial and recreational fishing is big business in Louisiana, generating more than $3 billion in economic impact every year. In some places in the state, it is possible to set out from one dock and catch everything from largemouth bass to yellowfin tuna. Even if you’ve never been fishing around the delta, you’ve probably enjoyed the region’s seafood, given that a significant portion of America’s domestic shrimp, blue crabs and oysters come from the Mississippi River Delta.
For North America’s ducks and geese, the wetlands of the Mississippi River Delta are vital. Every winter, the delta hosts around seventy percent of the ducks and geese that use the Central and Mississippi flyways—as many as 10 million waterfowl in a given year.
Louisiana's Wetland Infrastructure Protects Communities from Storm Surge
Saltwater intrusion caused by man-made shipping channels and canals has caused wide spread destruction of once healthy cypress swamps and oak tree cheniers across coastal Louisiana. The area pictured above is adjacent to the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) in St. Bernard and Orleans Parish.
Healthy coastal wetlands and barrier islands not only provide essential habitats for birds, fish and other wildlife, but people as well. Nearly 2 million people live and work in Louisiana’s coastal zone. Their homes, jobs and communities will continue to be threatened by the encroaching Gulf of Mexico if nothing is done to restore this ecosystem and make coastal towns and infrastructure more resilient. Barrier islands, marsh, sounds, natural ridges, wetlands and coastal forests all play critical roles in slowing storm surge before it reaches our levees and communities. Elevating homes to better survive storm surge, building better evacuation routes, smarter building, use of appropriate physical structures like flood gates and levee systems all combined with restoration of our ecosystems is going to make South Louisiana more sustainable. 2 million people live in the coastal zone. In order for our economy and culture to remain sustainable, we need those people to be able to live here safely.
Multiple Lines of Defense Graphic, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
Louisiana’s Wetland Infrastructure is Critical for Louisiana’s Economy
The Mississippi River Delta is integral to American economic growth. Supporting key energy infrastructure, commercial fishing, a vibrant tourism trade, and shipping and navigation, the delta is an economically diverse region. An economic engine that drives the nation is threatened. The region is home to the largest port system in the world, the production of more than ¼ of America’s energy needs and the most productive commercial fishery in the lower 48 states. Each year, recreational and commercial fishing contributes over $3 billion to the Louisiana economy. Over 250,000 Louisiana jobs are dependent on Louisiana’s shipping industry.
Wildlife tourism is a vital component of the Louisiana economy. Millions of tourists come to Louisiana every year to experience the natural wonders of our state. The tourism industry in general—which includes hotels, restaurants, retail and tour guides— provides more than 82,000 jobs in Louisiana. Wildlife tourism (focused on wildlife watching, hunting and fishing) generates nearly $2 billion in spending every year. Over 100 million birds either live or travel through Louisiana wetlands each year.
Louisiana Faces a Land Loss Crisis
Louisiana’s wetlands are facing a crisis that could ultimately lead to the total loss of this wonderful fishing and hunting resource. Since the early 1930’s, when levees were built to contain the Mississippi River, coastal Louisiana has lost nearly 2000 square miles of coastal wetlands, forests and barrier islands. That is over 1.2 million acres – a land mass larger than the size of Delaware. On average, 16-25 square miles of coastal lands are lost each year. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Gustav and Ike in 2008 and Isaac in 2012 washed away more than 400 square miles of vital coastal habitats.
Homes in Grand Bayou, Louisiana.
Louisiana's Coastal Master Plan
Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the Louisiana Legislature created the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and tasked it with coordinating the local, state, and federal efforts to achieve comprehensive coastal protection and restoration. To accomplish these goals, the CPRA was charged with developing a Coastal Master Plan to guide their work toward a sustainable coast.
Developed using the best available science and engineering, the Coastal Master Plan focuses efforts and guides the actions needed to sustain our coastal ecosystem, safeguard coastal populations, and protect vital economic and cultural resources.Additionally, the Coastal Master Plan provides the context needed to evaluate other activities in the coastal zone, including: transportation, navigation, and port projects; oil and gas development; ground water management and land use planning.
The Coastal Master Plan is much more than just a plan. It is the guiding document of CPRA and the efforts to protect and restore the Louisiana coast, built on a solid foundation of scientific and engineering principles. The first Coastal Master Plan was released in 2007 and is revised every five years.
For the 2012 Master Plan, scientists from all over the world were brought together to look for solutions to Louisiana's land loss problem. The 2012 Plan represents a state of the art blueprint for coastal restoration that works towards crecreating the natural processes that created the Mississippi River Delta and was passed unanimously by the Louisiana Legislature. The 2012 Coastal Master Plan is to be implemented over 50 years at a cost of $50 billion. Since the first Master Plan, over $18 billion has been secured for coastal protection and restoration projects.
Causes of Wetland Loss in Louisiana
You cannot point a finger at a singular cause of wetland loss in Louisiana. There are several factors that have played a role in Louisiana’s unprecedented wetland loss.
Oil and Gas Canals: Miles of canals and shipping channels dug by the oil and gas industry and the federal government to help navigate through coastal wetlands have also contributed to erosion and allowed saltwater to penetrate deep into coastal estuaries, killing vegetation and destroying essential habitat.
Oil and gas canals that have caused salt water intrusion on the Louisiana coast.
Subsidence: Subsidence is the sinking of the land surface over time. Areas of land that were built by the river, like the Mississippi River Delta, are susceptible to high rates of subsidence due to the volatile river sediment that is compacting over time. Areas that were once high enough to support vegetation, like in a marsh, drop over time. This causes land that never flooded to start flooding, and those plants can no longer survive.
Sea-Level Rise: Louisiana has some of the highest rates of relative sea-level rise in the world. The sea level is rising and the land is sinking. In the last century, there has been 3 feet of relative sea-level rise in southeast Louisiana. It is projected that in the next century we could see over 4 feet of relative sea-level rise in southeast Louisiana.
Salt-Water Intrusion: Salt-Water Intrusion occurs when saline water moves into freshwater systems, which can lead to the destruction of certain ecosystems that are reliant on freshwater. Contributors to saltwater intrusion include bayous, navigation canals, drainage ditches and oil and gas canals. All provide conduits for saltwater to move inland. Saltwater intrusion can also be worsened by extreme events like hurricane storm surges. Sea level rise also contributes to saltwater intrusion.
Hurricanes: Hurricanes destroy wetlands with their windspeeds and torrential rains.
The impact of Hurricane Katrina on Louisiana wetlands.
Oil Spills: Oil and wetlands do not mix. When oil is released into the wetland ecosystem, the entire ecosystem is impacted from the tiniest of insects to the largest birds and fish.
River Levees: After the 1927 flood, federal flood protection levees were put along the Mississippi River to protect communities from disastrous flooding. While these levees have protected communities, they have disconnected the river from its delta. The Mississippi River built southern Louisiana over a period of 5,000 years. The river changed courses and delivered sediment across the coast, building the delta. Where the river flowed, large amounts of sediment sustained the land and wetlands, replinishing what was washed away by coastal waters. The river is now straight-jacketed; it cannot replinish the dying wetlands that are in desperate need of sediment. By reconnecting the river to its delta in strategic locations, we can return the natural land-sustaining power of the river.
Levees being built along the Mississippi River following the flood of 1927.
Types of Restoration Projects in the Coastal Master Plan
1. Sediment Diversions: Sediment diversion projects mimic nature’s historic landbuilding by using the power of the river to move sediment and fresh water into nearby basins. Sediment diversions can build new land. In addition, sediment diversions are critical for nourishing and helping sustain the existing wetlands by increasing their resistance to and recovery from storms and sea level rise. These created and sustained wetlands can provide wildlife and fisheries habitat and storm surge protection to communities. Sediment diversions are long-lived projects that accrue benefits to the environment over time and provide a source of sand and mud to increase and enhance the lifespans, stability and long-term benefits of nearby marsh creation, barrier island restoration and ridge restoration projects.
By harnessing the power of the sediment that is currently being wasted by creating strategic openings in river levees to divert the sediment, we can reconnect the river to its delta and build land.
2. Marsh Creation Projects: Marsh creation projects use sediment from the Mississippi River or nearby water bottoms to build land in shallow open water areas, typically where land has recently been lost. Marsh creation projects can build land quickly and address the urgent need to help buffer nearby communities from storms. Marsh creation alone is not a long-term sustainable solution for land loss. These projects are designed and built several feet higher than natural wetlands, because the project is expected to sink with time. Marsh Creation projects can be built in combination with sediment diversions to help trap sediment from the diversion to build land more quickly. Sediment diversions can in turn benefit marsh creation projects by providing a longterm source of sediment that can help lengthen their lifespans.
Marsh Creation project in progress at Bayou Dupont.
3. Barrier Island Restoration: Barrier island restoration projects use sand to rebuild and restore barrier island beaches and dunes. These projects create or enhance important wildlife and shorebird habitat and serve as the first line of defense against storms for communities. In addition, these islands provide a natural barrier between salty Gulf waters and the salt-sensitive wetland plants behind the islands. They also shelter these wetlands from erosion by waves and storm surge.
Caminada Headlands Phase I before and after restoration.
4. Hydrologic Restoration: Hydrologic restoration projects restore fresh water flows through man-made channels or use gates, or similar structures, to reduce or prevent saltwater intrusion. These projects decrease salinity, preventing the die-off of freshwater plants and trees that are essential to preserving the structure and function of many marshes and swamps. They also maintain lower salinity conditions needed in some parts of the coast to support habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife.
5. Ridge Restoration: Ridge restoration projects use sediment to restore historic ridges. A ridge is a strip of land, usually a remnant of the bank of an abandoned bayou or stream. Ridges are elevated above the marsh surface and typically populated with trees. This project type restores important habitat that is high and dry enough to support native trees and plants. Ridges can provide storm surge protection to nearby communities and help prevent saltwater intrusion into freshwater wetlands. These forests also provide a unique habitat and are important stopover spots for migratory birds.
6. Oyster Reef Restoration: Oyster reef restoration projects use natural and manmade materials to encourage the establishment of oysters to create living shorelines. Oyster reef projects can reduce waves on adjacent wetlands, thereby reducing erosion. Additionally, oyster reef projects can help improve water quality, provide habitat for fish and can naturally maintain themselves over time.
Oyster Reef Restoration, courtesy of Nature Conservancy
7. Shoreline Protection: Shoreline protection projects are narrow “walls” made of rock or similar material placed along shorelines of lakes, bayous and open bays. These projects can significantly reduce the rate of erosion of the wetlands and shorelines they protect.
Funding for Coastal Restoration
NRDA: The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 requires that the government undertake a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) following an oil release to help recover resources harmed by the oil. BP agreed to an early NRDA settlement of $1 billion so that some of the natural resource damages could be repaired sooner rather than later. View the Louisiana projects funded with early restoration dollars here. Louisiana received over $600,000 for coastal restoration projects through the early NRDA funds.
The BP Settlement includes $5 billion to be used repairing the disaster's toll on Louisiana's natural resources.
Clean Water Act Fines (RESTORE ACT): A legislative proposal called the Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act(known as the “RESTORE Act”) was developed to direct a portion of the Clean Water Act civil penalties from the Deepwater Horizon disaster to Gulf restoration. President Obama signed the RESTORE Act into law on July 6, 2012.
The RESTORE Act creates a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. The Fund will receive 80% of any civil penalties paid under the Clean Water Act by the parties responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Fund will support a variety of projects aimed at helping the Gulf recover from environmental and economic injuries experienced as a result of decades of oil and gas development in the region, including the effects of Deepwater Horizon. Without the RESTORE Act, all civil penalty monies would go to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for, among other things, use in future oil spills.
The BP Settlement includes $787 million to be used in Louisiana to help Louisiana recover from the natural resource impacts from the oil spill.
NFWF: As part of the criminal settlements that BP and Transocean reached with the federal government, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) will receive a total of $2.544 billion “[t]o remedy harm and eliminate or reduce the risk of future harm” to natural resources in the Gulf. BP will pay $2.394 billion of that and Transocean will pay $150 million. The majority of funds will be released in 2017 and 2018.
GOMESA: Starting in 2017, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act will bring $140 million per year to Louisiana to be used by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for restoration