Louisiana accounts for up to 80% of the nation’s coastal land loss with dramatic annual losses of 25-35 square miles per year. Losses are due to a combination of human and natural factors, including subsidence, shoreline erosion, freshwater and sediment deprivation, saltwater intrusion, oil and gas canals, navigation channels and herbivory. Concern over this loss exists because of the living resources and economies dependent on Louisiana’s coastal resources. Louisiana’s coastal wetlands provide habitat for fisheries, waterfowl, neotropical birds and furbearers; protection for oil and gas exploration and production, and water-borne commerce; amenities for recreation, tourism, flood protection; and the context for a culture unique to the world. Benefits go well beyond the local and state levels by providing positive economic impacts to the entire nation.
In response to the rapid loss of coastal wetlands, the U.S. Congress enacted the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) in 1990 (Public Law 101-646). The Act is currently referred to as the "Breaux Act" referring to its major author, Senator John Breaux of Louisiana. Through CWPPRA, approximately $40 million has been made available (at 75% federal funding) each year for projects that will help the nation meet its coastal restoration objectives in Louisiana. CWPPRA has resulted in a unified effort among five federal agencies, the state of Louisiana, local government, private interests, and the academic and conservation community for planning, constructing, operating, maintaining, monitoring and evaluating restoration projects throughout coastal Louisiana. This document serves as a status report, and is the first official report (required by CWPPRA) on the coastal restoration efforts in Louisiana resulting from enactment of CWPPRA.
The Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Restoration Plan, completed in November 1993 by the Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force (Task Force), outlined restoration strategies for each of the nine coastal basins in Louisiana. That plan also identified more than 200 projects needed to implement those strategies. Annual priority lists of projects have been submitted to the U.S. Congress since enactment of CWPPRA. The CWPPRA Task Force, which includes five different federal agencies and the state of Louisiana, and its associated committees, drafts the lists and evaluates the projects with a quantitative and habitat-based method: the Wetland Value Assessment. This model examines different functions of a wetland and is used to devise 20-year scenarios for the future of that wetland if a CWPPRA project is implemented, comparing it to the scenario without project implementation. When this model is combined with standardized project cost estimates, the Task Force is able to prioritize projects based on factors including cost effectiveness and contributions toward regional restoration objectives within the 20-year planning horizon.
The planning process is constantly evolving to better meet Louisiana’s coastal restoration objectives. As of May 1997, six priority lists have been authorized and have resulted in 80 CWPPRA projects being selected to address marsh loss in the nine coastal hydrologic basins. Of these projects, four have been formally deauthorized, and 14 serve as small-scale demonstration projects intended to provide useful information for design of innovative restoration projects. In addition, CWPPRA feasibility studies, including the Louisiana Barrier Shoreline Feasibility Study and the Mississippi River Sediment, Nutrient, and Freshwater Redistribution Study, serve as planning tools to aid in identifying feasible large-scale wetland restoration projects for future funding or for project authorization via the Water Resources Development Act. The projects on the first six priority lists are expected to create, restore, and/or protect (directly offset coastal land loss) over 73,000 acres of coastal wetlands over the next 20 years.
Creating, Restoring, and Protecting
Coastal restoration projects have been started or completed in all nine of Louisiana’s coastal hydrologic basins. As of January 1997, construction has been initiated on 20 CWPPRA projects, 13 of which have been completed. A major accomplishment of the CWPPRA activities has been to delineate the unique landscape features and processes that occur in each basin and those that affect more than one basin. Since the multiple causes of wetland loss vary from basin to basin, the recommended solutions for offsetting those losses also vary. These regional dynamics have resulted in a myriad of restoration technologies customized for the particular needs of each basin. Some specific problems and the means by which they are being addressed through CWPPRA projects follow.
Typically, at least three to five years of data are desirable for a scientific assessment of performance of restoration projects. Because most of the completed CWPPRA projects do not have three or more years of data (the first project was completed in 1994), such an evaluation is not possible at this time. However, monitoring has been initiated on approximately 30 CWPPRA projects as of January 1997. Preliminary monitoring evaluations are available for completed CWPPRA projects and have been included in this report.
At current funding levels, CWPPRA alone cannot completely offset the rapid coastal wetland loss experienced in Louisiana. Evaluation of the effectiveness of each coastal wetlands restoration project in achieving long-term solutions to arresting coastal wetland loss in Louisiana has already begun. Although anticipated wetland acreage created, restored or protected (directly offsetting coastal land loss) is 73,687 acres (115 square miles) during the next 20 years, the anticipated loss during that same time period is approximately 428,000 acres (670 square miles). The efforts to date, therefore, represent only the first steps necessary to attain a sustainable coastal ecosystem. To achieve a significant reduction in coastal land loss, attention must focus on those areas where opportunities for positive results are most favorable. Future synthesis of CWPPRA efforts with other federal, state and local government efforts will result in even greater benefits for Louisiana’s coastal ecosystem. Only through an integrated, massive-scale effort can this national treasure be sustained.