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Context of '1930-2005: More than 1.2 Million Acres of Louisiana’s Coastal Wetlands Disappear'

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During the 75-year period between 1930 and 2005, more than 1.2 million acres of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands disappear. From 1932 to 1956, Louisiana loses 9,600 acres (15 sq. miles) of wetlands per year. The rate peaks between the years 1956 and 1978 at 26,000 acres (41 sq. miles) per year and then declines, falling to 20,000 acres (31 sq. miles) per year during the 1978-1983 period, and 16,000 acres (25 sq. miles) per year between 1983 and 1990. [Wicker, 1980 pdf file; Dunbar, Britsch, and Kemp, 1992; Barras, Bourgeois, and Handle, 1/1994; Barras et al., 2004 pdf file] After state and federal governments initiate a coastal restoration program in 1990 (see November 29, 1990) at a total cost of more than $400 million, the rate decreases to about 15,300 acres (24 sq. miles) per year. [Barras et al., 2004 pdf file] The decades of wetlands loss brings the Gulf Coast 30 miles closer to New Orleans; so by 2005, only about 20 miles remain between the below-sea-level city and the Gulf waters. [Houston Business Journal, 7/11/2003] Studies have projected that Louisiana’s coast will continue to lose land at a rate of about 6,600 acres per year (10 sq. miles) over the next 50 years, [Barras et al., 2004 pdf file] resulting in another 1000 square miles of wetlands being lost, an area almost equivalent in size to the state of Rhode Island. [Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority, 1998] The net loss of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has been attributed to several factors, including the maintenance of shipping lanes, the dredging of canals, construction of flood control levees, and the withdrawal of oil and gas. [Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey, 4/1987 pdf file; National Wetlands Research Center, 9/20/2005] The US Corps of Engineer’s flood control system of levees and dams is considered to be a major cause of wetlands destruction, as it prevents the Mississippi River from depositing sediment that is needed to sustain the wetlands. The oil and gas industry is also responsible for the net loss of wetlands. Thousands of canals for pipelines and drilling rigs are plowed during this period, often by the US Army Corps of Engineers, creating a scarred landscape and eroding the marshlands year after year. [Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey, 4/1987 pdf file; Times-Picayune, 7/26/2002; Houston Business Journal, 7/11/2003] A study in 1982 estimated that as much as 90 percent of Louisiana’s land loss can be attributed to canals. [Turner, Costanza, and Scaife, 1982 pdf file] Furthermore, the extraction of oil and gas from beneath the Louisiana coast is believed (see 2002) to have increased the rate of subsidence, a term used to describe the phenomena whereby land slowly sinks. [Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies, 2002 pdf file] Other causes of wetland destruction include wave erosion, land reclamation, and rising sea levels. [Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey, 4/1987 pdf file] Louisiana’s coast is a vitally important ecosystem and natural feature. It makes up about 40 percent of all US coastal wetlands and provides over-wintering habitat for 70 percent of the migratory birds that come down the Central and Mississippi flyways. [Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey, 4/1987 pdf file; Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority, 1998; US Army Corp of Engineers, 11/8/2004] The wetlands and barrier islands (some 80 percent of these islands are lost during this period) serve as a natural protective barrier against hurricanes by reducing the size of storm surges. [Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Geological Survey, 4/1987 pdf file; Houston Business Journal, 7/11/2003; van Heerden, 2004] The region is also of vital importance to the US economy. By the late 1990s, the region contributes 30 percent by weight of the total commercial fisheries harvest in the continental US; 18 percent of US oil production; and 24 percent of US gas production. Louisiana’s ports outrank all other US ports in total shipping tonnage. [Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority, 1998; US Army Corp of Engineers, 11/8/2004]

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Congress passes the Breaux Act, formally called The Coast Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), establishing a task force charged with planning and prioritizing wetland restoration projects that would then be sent to Congress to be included as part of the president’s annual budget submission. CWPPRA specifies that 70 percent of its authorized funds must go to Louisiana restoration projects; 15 percent to the Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program, a program that provides federal funds to restoration projects in other coastal states; and 15 percent to North American Wetlands Conservation Act projects. All projects funded under the terms of this act will require non-federal matching contributions. [US Code Vol. 16, secs. 3952-3956] Louisiana will generate its portion of funding for projects though taxes on fishing equipment, small engine, and motorboat fuels, as well as import duties. The act is set to expire in 2009 [National Wetlands Research Center, 9/20/2005] , but will be renewed at least until 2019. [ESA Policy News Update, 10/15/2004] By 2004, some $400 million will have been spent on coastal restoration projects as part of the program [van Heerden, 2004] , resulting in at least 52,000 acres being created, restored, or protected. [Louisiana Coastal Area Study, 7/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Congress, The Coast Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act of 1990

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The State of Louisiana, the US Army Corps of Engineers, federal agencies, local governments, academics, and local community groups work together to develop a comprehensive restoration plan aimed at rebuilding Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. The plan, named “Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coast,” outlines more than 80 restoration concepts that will serve as the basis for the more technical “Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Comprehensive Coastwide Study” that will eventually be submitted to the White House in 2004 (see October 2003). The Coast 2050 plan is a direct outgrowth of lessons learned from implementation of restoration projects under the Breaux Act (see November 29, 1990) and reflects a growing recognition that a more comprehensive systemic approach is needed. It is estimated that the Coast 2050 plan would cost $14 billion over the next 30 years to implement and require an annual budget of $470 million. It would restore natural drainage along Louisiana’s coast and direct the movement of sediment from the Mississippi to rebuild marshes. One of the plan’s strategies would be to install sediment traps at key locations in the river, from where sediment would be pumped through 100-mile long pipelines to rebuild wetlands and barrier islands. [Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Authority, 1998; Louisiana Coastal Area Study, 1/2003 pdf file; Civil Engineering, 6/2003; Louisiana Coastal Area Study, 7/2004 pdf file; Civil Engineering, 7/2004; USA Today, 8/30/2005] The Coast 2050 plan is endorsed by all 20 Louisiana coastal parishes, the federal Breaux Act (CWPPRA) Task Force, the State Wetlands Authority, and various environmental organizations, including the Coalition to Save Coastal Louisiana. “This approval is unprecedented,” says the Louisiana Coastal Area website. [National Wetlands Research Center, 9/20/2005]

Entity Tags: Louisiana State Wetlands Authority, CWPPRA Task Force, Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coast, US Army Corps of Engineers

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Governor Mike Foster (R-LA) endorses the Coast 2050 plan (see December 1998) to spend $14 billion over a 20 to 30-year period to rebuild Louisiana’s coastal wetlands as a means of protecting the mainland from the full destructive force of a major hurricane. [Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/26/2002]

Entity Tags: Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coast, Ivor Van Heerden

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Former petroleum geologist Bob Morton, now with the US Geological Survey, concludes in a paper that the oil and gas industry’s extraction of millions of barrels of oil, trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, and tens of millions of barrels of saline formation water lying with the petroleum deposits has caused a reduction in subsurface pressure causing underground faults to slip and the land above to subside. “Subsidence rates in coastal Louisiana associated with natural compaction and dewatering of Holocene deltaic sediments should decrease with time; therefore historical rates of delta plain subsidence that accelerate and typically exceed geological subsidence rates are most likely influenced by anthropogenic activities, such as subsurface fluid extraction.” [Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies, 2002 pdf file; National Geographic, 10/2004] The oil industry and its consultants dispute Morton’s theory, but fail to disprove it. If Morton is correct, any restoration efforts in the area could fail as they would be unable to offset the high rates of subsidence. [National Geographic, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Bob Morton

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

Scientists, environmental groups, and the US Army Corps of Engineers work together on a comprehensive technical plan to rebuild Louisiana’s disappearing coastal wetlands. The plan aims to “provide a sustainable coastal ecosystem with the essential functions, assets, and values of the natural ecosystem.”The Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Comprehensive Ecosystem Restoration Study, as it is called, incorporates the restoration concepts outlined in the 1998 Coast 2050 plan (see December 1998). The LCA study, unlike the Coast 2050 plan, provides the scientific and technical analyses and engineering details that Congress will use to decide if the project meets congressional requirements necessary to secure WRDA authorization. WRDA, or the Water Resources Development Act, provides federal authorization for water resources projects. The team hopes to submit a Chief’s Report by June 2004 so that the plan can be included as a funded action item in the WRDA legislation currently pending in Congress. [Louisiana Coastal Area Study, 1/2003 pdf file; Associated Press, 1/29/2004; Associated Press, 2/3/2004; Louisiana Coastal Area Study, 4/2004 pdf file; Louisiana Coastal Area Study, 7/2004 pdf file; National Geographic, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: US Army Corps of Engineers, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Ecosystem Restoration Study

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The US Corps of Engineers submits a draft report package and a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) on the proposed Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) wetlands restoration study (see March 2002-October 2003) to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The Corps is hoping that the report will be released this month, so it can be used to request congressional authorization in fall 2004 for the plan’s basic framework. But its release is held up by questions from the OMB and CEQ. In February 2004 (see February 2, 2004), the Bush administration will provide formal comments about the plan to the Corps in its 2005 proposed budget, directing the Corps to develop a less costly plan that focuses on narrower, shorter term objectives. [Associated Press, 1/29/2004; Associated Press, 2/3/2004; Louisiana Coastal Area Study, 4/2004 pdf file; Louisiana Coastal Area Study, 7/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Management and Budget, Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Ecosystem Restoration Study, US Army Corps of Engineers

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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