BATON ROUGE, La. – Legislation heading to President Joe Biden’s desk will play a critical role in the ongoing efforts to protect and restore coastal Louisiana. Last night the U.S. Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023 (NDAA), which included the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 (WRDA). WRDA 2022 formally prioritizes coastal ecosystem restoration as a top U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) mission, authorizes two major federal coast restoration projects, extends the timeline for the state’s final HSDRRS payment, and clarifies other major projects will be conducted at full federal expense.
WRDA is the biannual oversight bill for the USACE. It provides authorization for projects and makes policy changes, though it does not appropriate funding. As Louisiana’s most critical federal partner for ecosystem restoration, flood control, and navigation projects, USACE policy changes enacted through WRDA carry enormous implications for the protection and restoration of Louisiana’s Coast.
“This WRDA will be more valuable to the sustainability of our coast than any other such bill in over a decade,” said Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Chip Kline. “It not only clarifies roles and funding responsibilities for long-standing commitments to coastal protection and restoration, but also initiates new projects and policies that will provide major benefits to communities in Louisiana. I commend our entire federal Congressional delegation for their outstanding efforts.”
A selection of key provisions for coastal Louisiana within WRDA 2022 include:
- Clarifying that the ecosystem restoration of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) will be funded at 100% federal expense. The restoration of this area had been stymied by a long-standing disagreement between the State of Louisiana and USACE on cost sharing.
- Extending the deadline from 2023 to 2032 for the third and final HSDRRS payment, as well as providing more opportunity for using state-led coastal restoration projects for crediting.
- Facilitating the examination of providing 200-year level flood protection for Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity, as well as other provisions that would keep HSDRRS effective into the future.
- Prioritizing coastal restoration as a main mission of USACE by including provisions of the SHORRE Act, which was sponsored by Senator Bill Cassidy and Congressman Garret Graves.
- Authorizing the Upper Barataria Basin Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction project, a $1.8 billion risk reduction project in St. Charles, St. John, St. James, Jefferson, Ascension, Lafourche, and Assumption parishes.
- Authorizing the South Central Coast, Louisiana Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction project, a $1.2 billion risk reduction investment in St. Mary, St. Martin, and Iberia parishes.
- Directing the expedited completion of the St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana study, which would allow the project to have pre-construction engineering and design occur upon the completion of a USACE Chief’s Report currently anticipated for May 2024. The study identifies a $4 billion plan to address both riverine and coastal storm risk and is designed to reduce risk to over 15,000 structures.
- Declaring that the Lower Mississippi River Comprehensive Management Study would be fully federally funded. Authorized WRDA 2020, the comprehensive study would examine the Lower Mississippi River Basin from Cape Girardeau, Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico to identify new actions for the improved management of the Mississippi River.
- Restoring the federal obligation to fully fund the Operation, Maintenance, Repair, Rehabilitation, and Replacement (OMRR&R) of the Algiers Canal Levees, a commitment that the federal government stopped fulfilling following Hurricane Katrina.
- Providing flexibility for USACE disaster recovery dollars to be used for project improvements if justified, instead of being limited to only restoring a project to its pre-disaster status.
In February 2022, Governor Edwards appeared before Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at a field hearing on WRDA in Bethany Beach, Delaware. In his testimony, Edwards shared how Louisiana’s experience as a coastal state with a land loss crisis could be a model to the nation for responding to the impacts from the changing climate by partnering with USACE.
The full text of NDAA can be viewed here, with the final WRDA provisions negotiated between the House of Representatives and the Senate appearing in Division H, Title LXXI, starting at page 3160.