Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan moves on to state legislature for approval

By David Muth, National Wildlife Federation

On March 21, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) unanimously adopted the revised Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, which lays out a 50-year restoration plan for Louisiana’s coast. The Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign has worked closely with the state in the development of the plan, and many of our recommendations for improving and strengthening the draft were adopted in the final version.

Map depicting sediment starved wetlands and areas of wasted sediment in southeast Louisiana. Credit: CPRA 2012 Coastal Master Plan final draft

One such recommendation made by our campaign was to create clear paths forward for implementation of the nonstructural hurricane protection program and the design of a lower Mississippi River realignment. The final version of the plan also includes revisions supported by coastal stakeholders during the public review process, including relocating marsh creation or shoreline protection projects to locations that would help buffer vulnerable coastal communities. While these revised projects were not necessarily the best projects for optimizing land creation, they were justified because of the synergies they could provide with nearby protection projects. Even with these changes, 85% of the projects in the final plan were chosen by the Planning Tool to optimize land building in the face of less optimistic sea level rise scenarios.

Proposed Mississippi River diversions. Credit: CPRA 2012 Coastal Master Plan final draft

The final Coastal Master Plan revolutionizes the way Louisiana intends to move toward a sustainable coast. It proposes to spend $3.8 billion to reintroduce 50% of the peak flow of the Mississippi River into the most sediment-starved and deteriorating parts of the delta — a key goal of our campaign. This reintroduction could build up to 300 square miles of new delta over the next 50 years in the face of moderate subsidence and sea level rise. The plan also recommends designing a new navigation system to free up most of the remaining 50% of peak river flow for a new lower river alignment that will build additional new deltaic land. It also dedicates $20 billion toward the creation of over 200 square miles of marsh through sediment pipeline delivery to areas that cannot be reached by riverine reintroduction of sediment.

Credit: CPRA 2012 Coastal Master Plan final draft

Additionally, the plan provides for increased hurricane risk reduction for every coastal resident, by building resiliency for coastal communities through nonstructural measures such as elevating buildings, strengthening infrastructure and facilitating voluntary relocation. This fundamental shift away from the old standard of total reliance on levees, floodwalls and floodgates ratifies another fundamental goal of our campaign.

The Coastal Master Plan now goes to the Louisiana Legislature for adoption during the current session, which began on Monday and continues through June 4, 2012. If adopted, we move an important step closer towards implementing the goals of our campaign. Louisiana could become a world leader among vulnerable coastal areas in learning to live with the realities of future climate change and in learning to start living with water and natural processes rather than conducting a futile fight to the death against them.