A Bold Restoration Plan for the Pelican State

The Mississippi River Delta is where the muddy waters of America’s longest river connect with the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It is one of this nation’s most important ecosystems for fish and wildlife—and one of its most endangered.

The delta’s wetlands, cypress forests and barrier islands were formed over thousands of years by the shifting course of the Mississippi River and its annual floods. Species that rely on the region range from alligators, sea turtles and hundreds of migrating birds.

Unfortunately this incredibly ecosystem is disappearing at an astonishing rate: roughly a football field of wetlands erodes into the Gulf every hour.

The problems facing Louisiana’s coastline have been debated for decades, but the state has never created an actionable blueprint for restoring the coast—until now, with the recent release of its coastal master plan.

The Draft 2012 State Master Plan is quite possibly the most ambitious ecosystem restoration plan ever proposed in United States history, and it is the first to lay out a comprehensive vision for how a coastal state will cope with land loss, subsidence, and sea level rise. The plan deserves strong public support.

With an expenditure of roughly a billion dollars per year–split equally between protection and restoration—Louisiana could gain between 550 and 850 square miles of coastal marshes, swamps and barrier islands while protecting coastal communities like New Orleans from hurricanes and rising sea levels.

One unprecedented aspect of the master plan is the proposal to divert half the flow of the Mississippi River back into the delta—essentially restoring the river’s capacity to build land and re-establishing a vital natural process.  Also unprecedented is the proposal to invest up to $12 billion in measures that increase community resiliency to flooding.

Louisiana’s agencies and legislators need to hear that the public supports a comprehensive science-based plan that creates new wetlands and increases hurricane protections for wildlife and people living in the coastal zone.

Louisianans can support the plan by attending one of three public meetings next week:

  • New Orleans, January 23, University of New Orleans Lindy Boggs Center (map)
  • Houma, January 24, Terrebonne Civic Center  (map)
  • Lake Charles, January 25, Lake Charles Civic Center, Contraband Room (map)

Each meeting will include an open house from 1-5:30 p.m. and a public hearing from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Attending these meetings will ensure that the state understands the importance to the public of a bold, clear course of action to solve the coastal crisis, restoring wetlands and protecting our wildlife and communities.  The plan must provide a vision that America as a nation can rally around.  Louisiana’s future depends on it.