New Orleans Restoration Project Will Increase Resiliency, Create Jobs

By Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund

Central Wetlands Assimilation Project groundbreaking ceremony (Credit: Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation)

On Nov. 10, the City of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish broke ground on the important and innovative $10 million Central Wetlands Assimilation Project. On hand for the ceremony were New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro, members of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board and approximately 75 others representing community organizations, environmental non-profits and other interested parties. All agree the project is a critical first step towards restoring the entire Central Wetlands Unit, mitigating historical impacts of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) channel, improving fish and wildlife habitat, and creating new jobs in restoration and ecotourism.

The Central Wetlands Assimilation Project is a vital step to restore impacted wetlands in the Central Wetlands Unit, a 30,000-acre area east of downtown New Orleans, containing open water that was once a thriving cypress forest just over the levee from urban communities like the Lower 9th Ward and Chalmette.

However, in the early 1960s, construction of the MRGO shipping channel negatively impacted and dramatically altered hundreds of thousands of acres of coastal ecosystem surrounding the Greater New Orleans area including the Central Wetlands.  The MRGO inundated the area with saltwater, killing the cypress trees in the Central Wetlands and leaving behind open water. In 2005, the lack of a coastal wetland buffer contributed to catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina, worsening the damage it caused in the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

The Central Wetlands Assimilation Project will provide fresh water and nutrients needed to reduce salinity and encourage plant growth—by redirecting and reusing treated wastewater and effluent from the East Bank Sewage Treatment Plant into the area—rather than discarding all of it into the Mississippi River. Restoring freshwater flows and taking maximum advantage of the resources available serves as a model for all coastal Louisiana restoration efforts.

The Central Wetlands Assimilation Project is also an important first step to showing that environmental restoration equals economic restoration, creating recreation opportunities, improving habitat and creating new jobs. In fact, restoring the entire Central Wetlands Unit has the potential to create 680 direct and indirect restoration related jobs, according to a study by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

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