Restoring the Mississippi River Delta
Louisiana is facing a land loss crisis, but there are solutions to restore the region
Louisiana’s coast is home to nearly two million people, provides vital habitat for wildlife and birds, and contributes tens of billions of dollars to the national economy every year. The area is an economic engine for the state as well as the nation that depends on it for shipping, chemicals, energy, and seafood.
Land loss crisis
But coastal Louisiana is facing a land loss crisis. Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost nearly 1,900 square miles of land, or an area the size of the state of Delaware. Every hour, a football field of land disappears into open water.
Leveeing of the Mississippi River in the early 20th century severed the tie between the river and its surrounding wetlands, cutting off the Mississippi River Delta from its life-giving river and the sediment it carries. Without bold, large-scale restoration, Louisiana’s coast will continue to erode, putting cities, communities and industries at risk.
The oil spill
Five years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated Louisiana’s coast and the city of New Orleans, the 2010 Gulf oil disaster was yet another blow to an already degraded system. Coastal Louisiana was ground zero for the spill, bearing the brunt of onshore oiling and subsequent environmental and economic damages.
The Gulf Coast is still recovering from the effects of the oil disaster, and the ongoing impacts to Gulf wildlife and ecosystems may not be fully known for decades to come. Urgent restoration is needed to both repair the damage caused by the spill and to restore Louisiana’s vanishing coast - to help buffer and protect the region from future storms and disasters.
But out of the oil spill came a silver lining. In 2012, Congress passed the RESTORE Act, legislation ensuring that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act penalties BP and other parties pay as a result of the spill are dedicated to Gulf Coast restoration.
In October 2015, BP agreed to pay $20.8 billion to settle remaining federal and state civil suits against the company for its role in the oil disaster - the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history. Under the proposed agreement, Louisiana will receive nearly $8 billion, which the state plans to spend on coastal restoration.
There are solutions and plans in place to repair damage caused by the spill, reverse the land loss crisis, and revitalize the Mississippi River Delta.
The 2012 Coastal Master Plan is the blueprint for Louisiana’s coastal restoration and protection efforts. Based on sound science, the 50-year, $50-billion plan contains coastal restoration and “natural infrastructure” projects, such as sediment diversions and marsh creation, as well as coastal protection projects, including levees and floodwalls. Together, these projects will both protect existing land and cities as well as build new, protective wetlands.
Other efforts underway to restore and revitalize Louisiana’s coast include Changing Course, a design competition to maximize the utilization of the river to build land in the delta. This project brought together engineers and planners from around the world to create innovative visions for the Mississippi River Delta – visions that take into account the needs of communities, industries, and infrastructure. Ultimately, by adding these visions to the Coastal Master Plan, we can create a sustainable lower Mississippi River Delta.