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Louisiana coastal authority secures $2B to fund first-of-its-kind sediment diversion

Dr. Terry McTigue
/
NOAA

Louisiana will receive more than $2 billion to pay for an ambitious, first-of-its-kind plan to reconnect the Mississippi River to the degraded marshes on Plaquemines Parish’s west bank.

A collective of federal and state agencies – the Louisiana Trustees Implementation Group – signed off on the multibillion-dollar Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion on Wednesday. The funding will come out of settlement dollars resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Once constructed, the two-mile-long sediment diversion is expected to build up to 27 square miles of new land by 2050. In the next 50 years, as Louisiana’s coast continues to sink and global sea levels rise, the diversion is also projected to sustain one-fifth of the remaining land.

“The Trustees believe that a sediment diversion is the only way to achieve a self-sustaining marsh ecosystem in the Barataria Basin,” wrote the implementation group in its decision.

Coastal Protectiona and Restoration Authority (CPRA)

With the group’s approval, Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority chairman Chip Kline said the state can move forward with bringing the project to life. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the project its final permits in December following several years of environmental impact review.

“Today’s decision is the culmination of exemplary collaboration across federal and state agencies to address a complex issue with an impactful solution,” Kline said. “Coastal Louisiana is home to natural resources, communities and assets that our country simply cannot afford to lose, and this decision acknowledges its significance on a national scale and from every point of view.”

But the land-building and restoration won’t come without tradeoffs. The influx of fresh Mississippi River water could stoke flooding in communities located outside the parish’s levee system. It will also immediately disrupt the area’s seafood fisheries, which residents depend on for work. Local shrimpers and oyster harvesters have long resisted the diversion’s construction.

Studies have also suggested that the fresh water will also lead to the extinction of dolphins that have moved into Barataria Bay – a species that was harmed by the 2010 spill – as land loss has made the basin saltier.

In its decision, the trustee implementation group acknowledged that the project will have consequences.

“Reconnecting the river to the basin to restore an estuary that has been degrading and becoming more saline for almost a century would produce significant changes to current conditions in the Barataria Basin, which will adversely affect some of the species that currently reside in the basin,” the group said.

In turn, $378 million of the funding will go toward a range of programs to help lessen the project’s impacts:

  • A statewide stranding program to respond to and rehabilitate marine mammals in need
  • A state effort to improve public oyster grounds, provide cultch to oyster harvesters and establish new broodstock reefs
  • Support shrimpers by improving their ships so they can travel longer distances
  • Provide workforce training to shrimpers, crabbers and fishers to improve their business or enter a new industry
  • Raise roads, sewage systems and other infrastructure in communities vulnerable to flooding or offer buyouts

Following Wednesday’s announcement, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority officials said the state is coordinating with the Army Corps to finalize all steps needed to start construction later this year. The sediment diversion will take at least five years to complete.

Halle Parker reports on the environment for WWNO's Coastal Desk. You can reach her at hparker@wwno.org.

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