The impacts of coastal land loss threaten Louisiana’s economy, commerce, infrastructure, and culture. Furthermore, the collapse of coastal Louisiana would negatively impact the entire country – Louisiana’s coast provides protection for infrastructure that supplies 90% of the nation’s outer continental oil and gas, 20% of the nation’s annual waterborne commerce, 26% (by weight) of the continental U.S. commercial fisheries landings, and winter habitat for five million migratory waterfowl.
Both the Barataria and Breton Basins have experienced significant land loss due to sediment deprivation, hydrologic alteration, subsidence, sea level rise, and saltwater intrusion. Since the Mississippi River was leveed in the 1930s, the Mississippi River Delta, which includes the Barataria and Breton Basins, has lost approximately 700 square miles (or 447,000 acres) of land, representing one of the highest rates of land loss in the world.
Recognizing the need for an innovative approach to sustaining land in our state’s coastal region, the 2012 and 2017 Coastal Master Plans pinpoint eight proposed sediment diversions along the Mississippi River. Sediment diversions are cornerstone projects of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, essential to creating and sustaining coastal land in perpetuity.
Over the past several years, CPRA has conducted in-depth analyses of the Lower Breton, Lower Barataria, Mid-Breton, and Mid-Barataria diversion projects in order to determine which projects should be prioritized for engineering, design, and construction. Each project was modeled to predict project effects on variables including land building, salinity, sediment transport, nutrients, and water levels. The state also considered innovative marsh creation projects that could be implemented in conjunction with these sediment diversion projects in order to enhance sediment capture, build more land, and provide a comprehensive and complementary approach to coastal restoration. This modeling effort helped inform CPRA’s decision in fall 2015 to recommend that the Mid-Breton and Mid-Barataria diversions move forward to preliminary engineering and design.
Today, CPRA continues to strategically refine and optimize operation plans, formulate project design, conduct outreach, gather feedback to inform the process, and apply for the necessary permits to make strides toward construction. Additionally, planning efforts will continue to evaluate additional diversion projects and prioritize based on modeling, public feedback, and overall benefit for coastal Louisiana.
In early 2013, a U.S. District Court approved two plea agreements resolving criminal cases against BP and Transocean which arose from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. The agreements direct a total of $2.544 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to fund projects benefiting the natural resources of the Gulf Coast that were impacted by the spill. In Louisiana, this settlement mandated that these funds be dedicated to “create or restore barrier islands off the coast of Louisiana and/or to implement river diversion projects on the Mississippi and/or Atchafalaya Rivers for the purpose of creating, preserving, and restoring coastal habitat.”
No tax dollars will be used on the sediment diversion projects.