What is the relationship among Act 6, CWPPRA, Coast 2050, and the LCA program?

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.
Act 6

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 amendment process.

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 legislation.

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.
LCA Program

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 begun.