It is understood that Louisiana’s coastal ecosystem has
been eroding since at least the early 1930’s. Coastal erosion
was not quantified however until the early 1970’s, when
a group of Louisiana based coastal scientists undertook a detailed
study of the area. This study confirmed reports from local communities
that claimed to be watching the landscape change and revealed
the magnitude of this serious problem.
The term coastal restoration started being used soon after this
time. Its basic goal is to reverse the effects of coastal erosion
and ensure that the people, plants and animals of coastal Louisiana
can continue to live in this environment. It is a simple goal
for a very complex problem, a problem that can be effectively
remedied no other way than with a complex and comprehensive solution.
Coastal restoration’s beginnings can be traced to the
late 1980’s when local community groups began meeting to
discuss how to deal with coastal erosion. The State government,
prompted by these efforts, and well aware of the scale of the
environmental and economic problem, passed the Act 6 legislation
in 1989. Act 6 called for the formation of a multi-agency coastal
restoration authority to be funded by an oil and gas revenues
trust fund. Public support for this action was confirmed when
the trust fund was established by voters through the constitutional
Soon after this progress at the State level, Louisiana Senator
John Breaux succeeded in bringing national resources to the problem
when he successfully co-sponsored the Coastal Wetlands Planning,
Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA). This bill was signed
into law by President George H.W. Bush on November 29 1990. CWPPRA,
or the Breaux Act as it quickly became known, established dependable
funding for a program of coastal restoration projects in Louisiana,
and facilitated the new partnership between the five federal
agencies and the State government that to this day has overseen
a majority of the coastal restoration activity (CWPPRA Task Force).
CWPPRA has overseen the construction of 66 projects since this
time, with another 65 in either the design or construction phase.
These projects have prevented the loss of at least 50,000 acres
of wetlands. Since 1991, CWPPRA has provided between $33 million
and $62 million a year in federal funding to Louisiana coastal
restoration projects (individual projects generally cost between
$6 and $12 million). The State government also provides funding
as part of a cost-share agreement that was part of the initial
These restoration projects funded
by CWPPRA were important beyond the actual protection they
afforded Louisiana’s coast.
Valuable lessons were learned with each new project, and by the
late 1990’s the community of restoration professionals
in Louisiana had much knowledge and experience on which to make
future judgements regarding coastal restoration. One such lesson
learned was that, although essential, the CWPPRA projects alone
were not enough to ensure the future of Louisiana’s coast.
Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coastal Louisiana
The next important step for coastal restoration in Louisiana
was the development of the document, Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable
Coastal Louisiana. This restoration plan, released in 1998, was
developed by Federal, State and Local interests and overseen
by the CWPPRA Task Force. It differed from the approach taken
by CWPPRA in that Coast 2050 proposed strategies that restored
ecosystem functions as opposed to constructing localized projects
for localized erosion problems. Coast 2050 essentially sought
to establish a sustainable coastal ecosystem by utilizing the
same natural forces that initially built the landscape. Coast
2050 was endorsed by a diverse range of stakeholder groups in
coastal Louisiana, including all 19 coastal parishes.
Coast 2050 laid the blueprint for what was to become the Louisiana
Coastal Area (LCA) Program. The ideas presented in Coast 2050
were the result of 7 years of experience with CWPPRA project
construction, as well as 7 years of monitoring the Water Resources
Development Act funded Caernarvon freshwater diversion project.
This project diverted Mississippi river water in a controlled
manner into the deteriorating marshes of St. Bernard and Plaquemines
Parishes on the east bank of the river. This approach of reconnecting
the Mississippi River to the wetlands it created and nourished
was a central theme of the Coast 2050 vision.
The LCA Program selected general
strategies outlined in Coast 2050 for actual construction,
therefore providing the mechanism
to implement the strategies proposed in the original ‘visionary’ document.
The initial mission of the LCA Study group was to draft seven
alternative strategies for building sustainable coast wide ecosystems.
The massive scale of this approach had an equally impressive
cost estimate when it was completed. The Bush Administration
ultimately determined that the $14.9 billion dollar restoration
plan was too expensive and too large and directed that the LCA
focus on a “near-term” program that addressed the
most critical ecological needs. The resulting $1.9 billion LCA
Program is currently seeking funding through the Water Resources
Development Act of this year.
The LCA Program identifies 15 large-scale projects for construction,
of which 5 are in an advanced stage of planning and are likely
to be constructed first. These projects are all much larger and
more expensive than the types of projects CWPPRA provides funding
for with the estimated cost of the first five projects at approximately
$864 065 000.
The LCA Program also contains a range of non-project elements
such as a Science and Technology Program, Beneficial Use of Dredge
Material Program, and further studies of very large-scale approaches
for future consideration. With such an approach, the LCA is able
to ensure that the choices made regarding coastal restoration
are based on best available knowledge.
Much has been achieved with coastal
restoration. The scale of the environmental problems in our
wetland ecosystem however
is so immense that we still have far to go to achieve the goal
of a sustainable America’s WETLAND. Understandably, the
range of regulatory frameworks that exist to fund and manage
coastal restoration outlined above is often confusing to concerned
citizens. But to understand the essence of what is being done
comes down to some simple ideas, primary among them that we are
learning from our experiences and adjusting the strategies accordingly.
Coastal restoration is expensive, time consuming, and complicated,
and if we are to restore this ecosystem then we have only just