Lessons from Davis Pond – A Case Study in Adaptive Management
By Stephanie Oehler, Public Interest Law Fellow, Environmental Law Institute (ELI)
Even with extensive planning and design efforts, when restoration projects are implemented unanticipated impacts may arise. Through adaptive management, an ongoing process of monitoring and adjusting plans based on observed results, agencies can minimize negative effects and maximize the positive ones by making necessary modifications as issues emerge.
Adaptive management is particularly useful in contexts where there is uncertainty—regarding how technology will perform, how the environment will react, or how communities will be impacted—that cannot be fully accounted for in a project’s early stages. The massive task of coastal restoration is an area where adopting adaptive management is especially important.
Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) has received over $70 million from different funding sources to incorporate adaptive processes into its restoration work. As part of its wide-ranging efforts, CPRA is preparing to construct several large-scale sediment diversions to build land in coastal Louisiana. The size and novelty of these projects make it crucial to have effective adaptive management in place.
As CPRA begins to develop adaptive management policies for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, which is currently in the environmental assessment phase, a new case study from the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) seeks to illuminate best practices and lessons learned by examining adaptive management at an ongoing project: the state’s Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion. Operating for over a decade, Davis Pond diverts freshwater from the Mississippi River to the Barataria Basin to stabilize salinity levels, thereby preventing land loss and supporting fish and wildlife.
According to the ELI study, some key takeaways from implementation of adaptive management at Davis Pond include:
- A clear and specific operational plan will allow for consistent implementation by the managing agency and provides context for public comments;
- Extensive and frequent monitoring of an array of impacts is necessary to best adaptively manage diversions;
- Creating advisory bodies and holding meetings that include a variety of stakeholders and members of the public helps facilitate regular revisions to the operational plan; and
- Management processes should be transparent and accessible to the general public, as should important documents and monitoring data.
To learn more about the history of the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion Project, governance of river diversions, and good practices in adaptive management, you can find the full case study [here].