For Immediate Release: August 20, 2009
Contact: Chris Macaluso
Governor's Advisory Commission Discusses River Diversions, Sediment at Monthly Meeting BATON ROUGE --
The Louisiana Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation discussed at length challenges associated with and desperate need for harnessing the power of the Mississippi River for coastal restoration at its monthly meeting Thursday.
Ted Falgout, who chairs the Commission's subcommittee on river diversions, detailed the current operation scheme at the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion located in St. Charles Parish.
According to Falgout, Davis Pond, which is a salinity control diversion that directs nutrient-rich water from the Mississippi River into the northern Barataria Basin, is currently releasing about 2,000 cubic feet of water per second into the basin despite its capacity of more than 10,000 cubic feet per second.
The Army Corps of Engineers is currently conducting a feasibility study to determine the effects of operating the structure at or near capacity, a provision of the 2007 Water Resources Development Act that was passed by Congress, Falgout said.
"If we operated this diversion at its capacity instead of just trying to use it to meet a particular salinity level in the basin, we could transport more freshwater and sediment and rejuvenate more marsh," Falgout said. "We have shown the growth of more aquatic vegetation and healthier marshes in areas in the upper basin that get river water. If we are unwilling to operate this diversion at its capacity, how willing are we going to be open larger diversions in the coming years?"
Garret Graves, the governor's senior advisor for coastal activities and the chair of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said the process of trying to operate Davis Pond at its authorized capacity illustrates the motivation behind and the need for the state's current effort to streamline and expedite the processes used by the Corps.
A list of concerns and suggestions aimed at making the Corps work more efficiently compiled by state coastal restoration and protection officials can be viewed by clicking here
"This project was authorized to operate at a certain capacity when it was originally authorized," Graves said. "Why we have to go through another lengthy examination of the project in order to get it to operate at the level it's already authorized is just another example of how slow and tedious these processes used by the Corps are."
Rick Raynie, director of the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration's applied sciences division, followed the Davis Pond discussion with an outline of the state's overall diversion strategy and explanation of where future diversions are planned and how they will be operated.
Six diversions, including Davis Pond and the Caernarvon Diversion in St. Bernard Parish, currently have the capacity to transport about 23,000 cubic feet of water per second from the Mississippi River into adjacent wetlands though they are rarely operated at full capacity, Raynie said.
An additional 12 diversions are being designed to try to take full advantage of the sediments and nutrients in the Mississippi River that currently bypass the state's wetlands because flood control levees and jetties on the lower river that direct sediments into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, he said.
"Taking full advantage of the resources in the river is absolutely critical to the survival of South Louisiana and the Mississippi River itself," said Commission Chairman King Milling. "If we don't start using these sediments and nutrients in areas where they can build land and be of the best use there will be areas both north and south of New Orleans where the Gulf will be lapping at the banks of the river. There will be no more fisheries or navigation channels or some communities as we currently know them if we don't change the way we manage the lower river."
Milling then proposed a motion that was adopted by the Commission to ask Congress to ensure that funds deposited to into the federal harbor maintenance fund be used for their original purpose, to maintain depths in navigation channels and to beneficially use the sediments dredged from the channels. The Corps of Engineers dredges as much as 60 million cubic yards of sediment from Louisiana navigation channels annually but uses less than 20 percent of it to beneficially restore land and wetlands. Corps officials blame a lack of funding and federal requirements that force the disposal of dredged materials in the least expensive manner for the wasting of the bulk of river sediments.
Sean Duffy, representing the Gulf States Maritime Association, said the navigation industry is in full support of using the funds in the harbor maintenance program, which currently exceed $5 billion, for their intended purposes. The fund was established in the 1986 Water Resources Development Act and is composed of tariffs placed on imported goods.
"The Corps of Engineers is constantly saying the reason it can't use our sediments beneficially is because of a lack of funding," Milling said. "But, it is clear that if the federal government would use the available funds for their intended purposes we could not only pay for the dredging that is needed and not being done right now but also pay for the beneficial use of these sediments."
For more information about Louisiana's ongoing coastal restoration and hurricane protection efforts, please contact Chris Macaluso at 225-342-3968 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The role of the Advisory Commission on Coastal Restoration and Conservation is to advise the Governor of Louisiana and the State Legislature of the steps necessary to make coastal restoration a state and national priority by assuring that Louisiana is prepared to meet its contractual, managerial and financial commitment now and into the future. With Louisiana's unbending commitment to this principle, the Commission can provide the leadership and vision required to obtain a multi-year, multi-billion dollar coastal restoration program.