West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion Project

12.05.2014 | In Restoration Projects

Louisiana recently proposed 5 projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE Act.  The West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion project’s objective, also known as the Mississippi River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp project, is to restore and enhance the health and sustainability of the Maurepas Swamp through the reintroduction of season Mississippi River inflow. Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion project:

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate the opportunity to share our supporting comments on the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the necessary restoration actions to be undertaken in Louisiana are already fully authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, enjoy broad public support, and have been vetted by scientists and lawmakers for many years.

Such is the case with the River Reintroduction into the Maurepas Swamp Project.

The River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project has long been discussed as an important coastal restoration project: it was featured as a key restoration project in the 1998 “Coast 2050” plan, was further developed in the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) program with EPA as its sponsor, was included in the LCA (Louisiana Coastal Area) Study (WRDA 2007) and the Louisiana 2007 Coastal Master Plan, and is currently included in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan (named the “West Maurepas Diversion”).

This project would benefit the western Maurepas swamps, the landbridge between Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain and the LaBranche wetlands. In addition, this project, in conjunction with the Central Wetlands diversions, will influence the Biloxi Marsh area.

Dominated by bald cypress and water tupelo trees, this swamp complex is one of the largest forested wetlands in the nation. Levees constructed along the river and the closure of Bayou Manchac have isolated the area from spring floods and the vital fresh water, nutrients and sediments that once enhanced the swamp. This isolation has led to a decrease in swamp elevation, that coupled with rising salinities throughout the Pontchartrain Basin have left the swamp in a state of rapid decline – trees are dying and young trees are not regenerating. The River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project will reconnect the swamps to the river, preventing further loss and the conversion to open water, as well as helping to temper rising salinities throughout the entire Pontchartrain Basin.

Applying funds to the project now, toward completion of the remaining engineering, design, and permitting, will finally take the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project to a construction-ready status. And, given its development history, this project would seem a perfect candidate for CPRA to conduct in collaboration with EPA, with some assistance from Corps of Engineers regulatory and restoration teams.

In conclusion, the 2012 Coastal Master Plan data demonstrated that the swamp could be completely lost in a mere two decades. Due to the urgency of getting this project constructed and operating, the below signatories commend Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for submitting, and we urge the RESTORE Council to select this project for funding.