Louisiana’s Infrastructure Opportunity: Coastal Restoration and Protection

05.18.2017 | In Economics
By Shannon Cunniff, Director, Coastal Resilience, Environmental Defense Fund

This week is Infrastructure Week, a national event recognizing the importance of investing in and improving our nation’s infrastructure. What do you think of when you hear the word “infrastructure”? You probably think of roads and bridges, ports and waterways, airports and railways.

But another important element is investing in and improving our nation’s natural infrastructure. Rebuilding America’s natural infrastructure – its beaches, dunes, marshes and mangroves – is equally important, because such natural infrastructure solutions buffer communities against storm surges, purifies water, provides habitat for important commercial fisheries and offers recreation and tourism opportunities that are the foundation for many local economies.

That’s why it’s important to not only highlight our country’s built infrastructure but to also highlight natural infrastructure, that provides a critical first line of defense against flooding and protects our investments in built infrastructure. Restoring coastal natural infrastructure would provide a welcome economic boon to many places across the country, particularly in coastal Louisiana.

Restoration in action at Caminada headlands.

Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan contains more than 100 coastal restoration and protection projects – i.e., infrastructure projects – that, if implemented, will combat land loss, rebuild Louisiana’s coast, and help protect our cities and communities. The master plan is a 50-year plan and is updated every five years with the best-available science. The 2017 plan is currently making its way through the state legislature, with votes expected in the coming weeks.

Without action to restore the coast, Louisiana could lose as much as 2,250 square miles of land over the next 50 years. This land loss puts our communities, economies and natural resources at risk. It also puts our homes, businesses, ports, oil and gas industrial facilities, roads and other vital infrastructure at risk from the effects of storms and rising seas.

If implemented, the 2017 Coastal Master Plan will help significantly reduce damages that could exceed $150 billion over the next 50 years without the master plan. In addition to reducing risk, investments in coastal restoration and protection will also support nearly 60,000 jobs over the next 10 years. That’s a huge win-win.

Volunteers Ridge Restoration - Restore the Mississippi River Delta

Restoring coastal ridges to protect our coast.

Additionally, the water management industry, which includes coastal restoration and protection, is one of the largest growing sectors in Louisiana’s coastal zone and growing faster than any other major sector in the area, according to a recent analysis. Investments in coastal restoration will create jobs, grow the economy, protect existing industries and communities and ensure we have a healthy coast for generations to come.

We ought to invest in infrastructure to protect people, property and the economy. That means   investing in restoring and protecting our coastal areas, including coastal Louisiana. Louisiana has a plan and the sound science to make real headway on rebuilding our coast, protecting vital infrastructure and industries, creating jobs, restoring habitat and investing in our future.

As the Infrastructure Week site says, “It’s time to start building.”