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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Independent scientists release recommendations for building land in coastal Louisiana

Independent scientists release recommendations for building land in coastal Louisiana

Sediment Diversions present opportunity to rebuild Louisiana’s coast

Thursday, the Sediment Diversion Operations Expert Working Group – a team of leading scientists and community experts with decades of experience working in coastal Louisiana – released key recommendations for operating Mississippi River sediment diversions to most effectively build and maintain land while considering the needs of communities, wildlife and fisheries.

Sediment diversions are engineering structures consisting of gates and channels that will be built into Mississippi River levees to allow fresh river water, sediment and other nutrients to flow into wetlands to help build and sustain land.

These manmade diversions tend to mimic the natural processes that originally built the land of coastal Louisiana.

Lessons learned in Louisiana about how to use nature to rebuild land and protect coastal communities can be applied to other regions facing similar risks of coastal erosion, rising seas and increased storms.

The state of Louisiana is advancing two diversion projects south of New Orleans toward construction in 2020. Both the Mid-Barataria and Mid-Breton sediment diversions are included in the state’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, which was unanimously approved by the Louisiana Legislature.

The team of 12 experts serving on the Sediment Diversion Operations Expert Working Group issued its recommendations after eight months of analysis and discussion.

Key recommendations include:

Sediment diversions should be operated on a pulse that mimics the natural flood cycle of the Mississippi River, which includes taking full advantage of winter flood peaks from November through February when the greatest concentration of sediment is available in the river, as well as operating in the spring when sand needed for building land is at its highest.

Operations plans should include robust monitoring and flexibility for adjustments based on rapidly changing conditions, such as hurricanes and other events.

Diversions should be opened gradually over a 5-10 year period to help develop distributary channel networks, reduce flooding risks, and allow plants, fish, and wildlife species to adjust to new conditions.

Local communities, industries and others that will be affected by diversions must be consulted and kept informed throughout all phases of diversion development and operations.

Since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost nearly 1,900 square miles of land, or a football field of land every hour, primarily due to leveeing of the river for flood control and navigation.

In the midst of this ongoing land loss crisis, sediment diversions are vital restoration tools needed to build and sustain coastal wetlands. These wetlands are crucial for protecting communities and industries from the effects of storms and rising seas as well as providing habitat for birds and wildlife.

The Sediment Diversion Operations Expert Working Group is a body of independent scientists and experts formed by Environmental Defense Fund, in coordination with Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition partners, which include non-government groups with long histories of working on the Louisiana coast. 

The group developed and shared operational recommendations with Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, other state and federal agencies, the larger scientific community, and communities and businesses with a stake in the operation of diversions.