A Winning Strategy for Restoring the Barataria Basin

By Alisha Renfro, Coastal Scientist, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program, National Wildlife Federation

In March 2018, Louisiana’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustee Implementation Group (TIG) released a strategic restoration plan outlining priorities to repair damages and restore the ecosystem in Louisiana’s Barataria Basin following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The plan, titled, “Strategic Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment #3: Restoration of Wetlands, Coastal and Nearshore Habitats in the Barataria Basin, Louisiana,” may sound a little dry, but it is actually a big, exciting step forward toward funding and implementing large-scale restoration of Louisiana’s coast.

Where did this plan originate?

In the spring of 2010, shortly after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, oil began washing up and coating the beaches and wetlands of the Barataria Basin. Once home to some of the most productive wildlife and fisheries habitat in the nation, the heavily-oiled Barataria Basin is losing land vital to the health and productivity of a wide range of species, in addition to communities and industry.

In 2016, BP agreed to pay $8.8 billion over 15 years with a little over $4 billion of that going to restore damaged wetlands and coastal and nearshore habitats in Louisiana. Since the Barataria Basin was heavily oiled during the spill and because the benefits provided by a healthy, productive Barataria Basin extend to other Gulf resources impacted by the oil spill, the Louisiana TIG decided to develop a restoration strategy specifically for this basin to help prioritize future decisions about restoration project selection and funding.

What is included in the plan?

In this plan, the Louisiana TIG selected an alternative that pursues a suite of restoration approaches for restoring the Barataria Basin, including marsh creation, ridge restoration and a large-scale sediment diversion “that would likely provide benefits to the ecosystem that cannot be realized by any other technique or suite of techniques.” In addition to these restoration techniques, the Louisiana TIG selected three specific Coastal Master Plan projects for further evaluation and planning: the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, the Spanish Pass Ridge Restoration, and part of the Large-Scale Barataria Marsh Creation.

Location and influence area of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. Credit: CPRA.

Location of Spanish Pass Ridge Restoration. Credit: CPRA.

Location of Component E of the Large-Scale Barataria Marsh Creation project. Credit: CPRA.

Why were these priorities selected?

An alternative that uses a suite of different restoration project types, including sediment diversions, marsh creation and ridge restoration was selected because:

Together, these restoration techniques would restore a variety of coastal habitat, increase connections between different habitats, and build and maintain marsh and ridge habitat across a large area of the Barataria Basin, accruing greater benefits together than each of these restoration techniques could yield on its own. In addition, “Re-establishing the deltaic processes that deliver sediment, freshwater, and nutrients improves the function of existing habitats.”

What does this mean for Barataria Basin?

While this doesn’t mean these specific projects will be constructed tomorrow, this strategic plan is an important step forward in recognizing the ecosystem-scale benefits that the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project can provide for addressing injuries from the oil spill and restoring long-term health to the Barataria Basin.

In addition to the Louisiana TIG’s clear commitment to Barataria Basin restoration outlined in their strategic restoration plan, here are quotes pulled directly from the plan highlighting the importance of sediment diversions as large-scale restoration mechanisms: