Signs of progress for the Mississippi River Delta
Long before the 2010 BP oil spill, the Mississippi River Delta was hurting.
The delta’s vast wetlands have been eroding for decades, exposing New Orleans and coastal communities to hurricanes and oil spills. The land loss is mostly caused by leveeing of the Mississippi River, which deprive the delta of water and sediment to replenish wetlands.
The disappearing coastline also endangers a $23 billion fishing industry, the nation’s most significant port complex, key oil and gas infrastructure, and habitat for tens of millions of migrating birds.
Prioritizing natural infrastructure
Fortunately, in 2012, EDF and our partners were able to help Louisiana pass a landmark plan for a revived coast and a secure future, called the Louisiana 2012 Coastal Master Plan. In this plan, the state selected 109 high-performing projects that could substantially increase flood protection for communities and rebuild a more sustainable coast.
Many of these projects balance the use of natural processes to rebuild wetlands with traditional engineering and flood protection projects, including levee construction and home elevation.
“Delta wetlands, barrier islands, oyster reefs: These types of natural infrastructure not only help fight erosion, they make the area more resilient to climate change,” notes Natalie Peyronnin, EDF Mississippi River Delta science policy director.
What’s under way?
Some of the state projects will be funded by penalty money from the BP oil spill disaster. However, because the fines won’t pay for all the projects necessary to restore the Gulf Coast, EDF and our partners have focused our attention on the projects with the greatest potential to provide the widest benefits. These projects were prioritized because they provide the greatest ecological benefit, are complementary and will help rebuild Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands.“These projects were selected because they have the greatest potential to provide the greatest benefits,” Peyronnin explained. “By combining different types of projects in the same geographic area–for example, sediment diversions, marsh creation and barrier island restoration–we can build new land quickly and sustain it for the long term.”
We must get restoration right–for the communities, wildlife and economies of the Gulf.Natalie PeyronninEDF Mississippi River Delta science policy director
40% of the nation’s remaining coastal wetlands are in Louisiana.