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A Once-in-a-Lifetime Conservation Opportunity

June 2, 2017
Louisiana’s master plan for the Mississippi River Delta

Those who have fought tirelessly for meaningful restoration for the Gulf Coast are cheering today’s news that the Louisiana legislature voted to approve the $50 billion Coastal Master Plan. This step marks a critical turning point for a region that is literally watching its future wash away.

The Mississippi River Delta is experiencing extreme land loss, as is evidenced by the oft-cited statistic that Louisiana loses a football field of land every hour. Put another way, an area roughly the size of the state of Delaware has disappeared from Louisiana’s shores in the last 80 years. And predictive mapping shows that without dramatic action, this problem will only grow in the years to come.

The impacts of environmental degradation in the Delta, exacerbated by disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 oil spill, are extreme, too. The Gulf Coast is home to a $34 billion per year tourism industry, fishing communities that supply 40% of the seafood in the lower 48 states and an overall ocean economy that supports more than 500,000 jobs. All of these facets of the Gulf economy are at risk if the region continues to lose the shorelines, wetlands and marine habitats that make up the coastal environment.

A predicted scenario of land change in Louisiana in 50 years, if no master plan projects are built.

Now for the good news. By approving the coastal master plan today, Louisiana lawmakers have seized a rare opportunity to address these threats to the Gulf region. The Mississippi River Delta is ripe for long-lasting improvements, as the region has the three critical elements needed for meaningful restoration:

1. Will of the people. Policymakers, industry leaders and residents in the region see firsthand how environmental degradation is impacting their communities, businesses and livelihoods. Decision makers and the public agree that the need for restoration is urgent – that is evident in today’s overwhelming bipartisan approval of the master plan.

2. Science-based solutions. The answer to Louisiana’s land loss crisis is no mystery. Scientists and conservation experts agree that projects like sediment diversions can rebuild enough land to restore the health of the Gulf and protect the people and communities that live in coastal Louisiana and New Orleans.

3. Funding. The 2010 oil spill was disastrous for the Gulf, but the money that is flowing into the region as a result can kick-start the largest restoration project ever undertaken in the United States: to restore and rebuild the Mississippi River Delta.

Anyone working in conservation can tell you how exceedingly rare it is for these elements to come together and present an opportunity like the one in the Gulf Coast. That’s why the Walton Family Foundation, along with our partners and grantees, are treating this situation with extreme urgency. We are working to advance restoration solutions that will work and last, and ensure that they are implemented before it is too late.

The approval of the Coastal Master Plan is the first step toward capturing our one and only chance to get Gulf Coast restoration right. If we don’t take action, we will miss out on perhaps the greatest conservation opportunity of our lifetimes. But if we do, we can rebuild this region that has been battered by natural and man-made degradation for decades, and ensure a healthy Gulf Coast that will continue to prosper.

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