For Immediate Release: October 6, 2009
Contact: Chris Macaluso
Advisory Commission Urges Changes in Diversions Operations, Funding of Critical Federal Coastal Restoration Projects at Tuesday Meeting
BATON ROUGE -- The Louisiana Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation discussed expediting the design and construction of federally approved coastal restoration projects and making the best use of projects already built at its meeting Tuesday.
The meeting opened with the unanimous adoption of a resolution urging the Corps of Engineers to change the current operating practices for the Davis Pond Diversion in order to maximize freshwater and sediment delivered into the upper Barataria Basin.
Ted Falgout, chair of the Commission's diversions subcommittee and executive director of the Port of Fourchon, introduced the resolution and explained that Davis Pond has been managed by the Corps strictly to control salinity rather than using it at its maximum capacity to deliver freshwater and sediment into the Barataria system.
Davis Pond, which was originally approved for construction by Congress in 1965 but not built by the Corps until 2002, can move as much as 10,650 cubic feet of water per second from the Mississippi River into Lake Cataouatchie in St. Charles Parish. But, the Corps has operated it at an average of only 2500 cubic feet per second since 2003, according to the resolution.
"The focus for the Corps has been the ponding area that holds the water when it first comes out the diversion or on the salinity levels instead of worrying about the marshes in the Barataria Basin that the project could be benefiting," Falgout said. "This is a crisis situation and we have lost too much land in this area in the last four years not to be taking full advantage of the resources available if we operate the diversion at capacity."
The resolution concerning Davis pond led the Commission to draft a similar document addressing the Caernarvon Diversion in St. Bernard Parish. Caernarvon, which has been operating since the early1990s, can move nearly 9,000 cubic feet of water per second into marshes southeast of New Orleans. But, like Davis Pond, it has been operated primarily to control salinity rather than deliver nutrients and sediments to build marsh.
Dr. Denise Reed, a wetlands geologist from the University of New Orleans, told the Commission that the diversion has managed to deliver small amounts of sediment to parts of the receiving area despite its operation but it has yet to realize its full restoration potential.
"The state wants the operations of these diversions changed to maximize the capability of both to deliver freshwater and sediments to as much marsh as possible as well as changes made to parts of the receiving area to capture as much sediment as possible to build land," said Kirk Rhinehart, administrator of the planning section with the state's Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration.
The resolutions coincide with public meetings being held this week by the Corps and the OCPR to discuss the operations changes to both diversions approved in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act.
The diversion's discussion was followed by a presentation regarding all of the restoration projects in the Louisiana Coastal Area Study (LCA) that were approved in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act.
James Tripp, counsel for Environmental Defense Fund, said the time frame by which the Corps of Engineers is working on developing the LCA projects and the time frame by which Congress is providing funds do not reflect the urgency of the dire situation facing Louisiana's coastal marshes and barrier islands.
Tripp asked state officials what their strategy would be if the federal government was to somehow fund the projects in the next six months.
"President Obama is coming to South Louisiana next week," Tripp said. "If he is convinced of the urgent need to fund these projects and includes the funding in his budget next February, what would the state and the Corps do to start building them as soon as possible?"
Garret Graves, Senior Advisor to the Governor for Coastal Activities and chair of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said the state would recommend expediting or eliminating the regressively lengthy feasibility studies currently being conducted and move to engineering, design and construction as quickly as possible.
"The state is ready to move forward now on these projects. We understand the urgency," Graves said.
He said four projects would be recommended by the state to receive funding first, including the restoration of the ecosystem surrounding the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, increasing the capacity of Bayou Lafourche to carry freshwater to areas in Lafourche Parish, the Myrtle Grove diversion and the restoration of the Barataria Basin Barrier Shoreline.
"It's obvious that this process by which we examine and move toward building these projects is broken," said Dr. Robert Stewart, a former director of the USGS's National Wetlands Research Center. "The President can and hopefully will give direction to the Corps of Engineers and the federal government to move faster. If that doesn't happen, we will be back in this room next year and for many years to come having this same discussion."
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.