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Louisiana Moves Closer to Delivering on Coastal Restoration

April 19, 2018
Plans for Mississippi River diversion project advance ahead of schedule

On April 2, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority (CPRA) announced an update to the permit timeline for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion – a project critical to the restoration and rebuilding of the Gulf coast.

Following the announcement in January of an agreement between Louisiana state officials and federal agencies to modify the timetable for the project, the permitting process is now set to conclude in 2020 – 22 months earlier than previously projected.

With a football field of land washing away every 100 minutes along Louisiana’s coast, this new timeline reflects the urgency with which we need to act to protect the coastal communities, economies and critical infrastructure threatened by land loss and rising seas. Projects like the Mid-Barataria Diversion, which uses the power of the mighty Mississippi River to replenish the sediment in dwindling wetlands, are vital for stemming the tide of land loss and creating a more sustainable future for the communities, industries and habitats of coastal Louisiana.

Studied extensively since the 1980’s, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project would help curb coastal land loss by redirecting fresh water from the west bank of the Mississippi River into the Barataria Bay – depositing sediment where it’s needed most. By diverting up to 75,000 cubic feet of water per second, the diversion would feed the wetlands and nourish existing marshes. This will ultimately create a more resilient coastal habitat that can sustain communities of people and wildlife and withstand flooding and storms.

The revised timeline for the Mid-Barataria project is a landmark example of how collaboration between policymakers, scientists and advocates can lead to solutions that reflect the urgency of the challenge at hand. Building the Mid-Barataria Diversion safely, responsibly and as quickly as possible is good for the Louisiana coast and those who depend on it. And as we move closer to construction, we applaud the state’s commitment to using adaptive management to adjust its operations plans as we learn how implementing these solutions impact coastal habitats and all who rely on the tremendous resources of the Mississippi River.

While this project is an essential component of restoring the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, more needs to be done to protect the region’s coastline. Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan proposes suites of restoration projects that, taken together, can provide multiple lines of defense to communities and the coastal ecosystem as a whole. And it is more urgent than ever to pursue swift implementation of these restoration projects to save as much of the Mississippi River Delta as possible.

That was made clear when the Bonnet Carre spillway was recently opened for the 12th time since it was built, and the 4th time in the past 10 years, to mitigate flooding in the Mississippi River Basin. This last-resort option is being turned to more and more frequently, all while we watch the long-term solution to the coastal crisis wash out to sea. At the same time, a study released this week showed that the Mississippi River cannot keep up with accelerating land loss and rising seas. It served as a stark reminder that every day that passes without restoration means the disappearance of land the Louisiana coast may never get back. We are racing against the clock.

The new permitting timeline for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project is an ambitious leap in the right direction, but there’s much more work to be done. We will continue to look for ways to move restoration projects forward. The federal government has taken important steps to support a more aggressive restoration timeline. While we have seen important signals of commitment at the state level, Louisiana must do everything in its power to address the urgency of the coastal crisis and move restoration forward. At the Walton Family Foundation, we will do everything we can to support continued partnership to deliver of the promise of restoration.

With every day that passes, more of the Louisiana coast is lost. This crisis needs to be treated with the urgency it deserves. As Louisiana’s lead coastal official Johnny Bradberry said himself, “the time for action on these diversions has arrived. We wait longer at our own peril.”

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