An unprecedented project to combat land loss that ravages the Louisiana coast by diverting sediment and water from the Mississippi River into the Barataria Basin took an important step towards final approval on Monday with the release of a final environmental assessment by part of the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps released the long report on the $ 2 billion Mid-Barataria sediment diversion project. It explains how new freshwater and sediment flow for at least half the year into the basin will create more than 20 square miles of new land during its first 50 years of operation.
It also examines how it will reduce potential flooding for West Bank communities in the New Orleans area, slightly increase the flood potential for downstream communities, and significantly affect fishing, oysters and bottlenose dolphins by increasing freshwater levels in the hip bone.
State officials consider the project the most important of the state’s ongoing coastal master plan to reduce the effects of subsidence and sea level rise on land loss, while also recognizing its potential effects on fisheries and residents, which they will be offset by $ 380 million in damage mitigation projects.
“This is a monumental time for the state and the state’s coastal program,” said Chip Kline, president of the State Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “Members of the Biden administration told us this is the largest coastal restoration project in the country and the largest of its kind in the world.”
He said Monday’s release of the report put the state on the “two-yard line” when it comes to receiving the final green light to move forward with the project. The permits from the Corps allowing for the construction and federal and state administrators of the BP oil spill on financing the project may now arrive as early as December.
These approvals will build on the conclusions of this final version of the study. It provides a very detailed look at the project’s environmental impacts, ranging from its enormous land construction potential to the challenges it poses to the commercial fishing industry in the Barataria basin.
It follows a draft environmental impact report released last year and addresses over 40,000 public comments.
The project has been running for decades, and the state sees it as a revolutionary potential when it comes to fighting coastal land loss. It would essentially mimic the processes that created southern Louisiana in the first place, sending millions of tons of sediment into the basin each year through diversion.
Louisiana has lost land roughly equivalent to the size of Delaware since the 1930s. It could lose two more Delawares in the next half century if no action is taken to stop it.
Louisiana’s soil loss crisis is largely due to levees that keep the Mississippi River on its current path and protect surrounding communities from flooding. What is now Louisiana was built slowly over eons from sediments deposited by the moving river, which no longer occurs due to the levees, causing the inner earth to sink as water and air are released into the time.
At the same time, soil loss has been exacerbated by other man-made factors, including channels dug into the swamp by the oil and gas industry and sea level rise exacerbated by climate change.
Water levels along the Louisiana coast could rise by over 4 feet by the end of the century. Climate change is also helping to intensify hurricanes, which also affect coastal lands.
The $ 2 billion project would be paid for with settlement money related to the BP Deepwater Horizon 2010 oil spill. The plan includes projects to mitigate the diversion’s impact on the commercial fishing industry and neighboring communities that could see an increase in flood risks as a result.
Beyond the concerns of commercial fishermen, another controversial issue concerns the impact on bottlenose dolphins. The project is expected to have a catastrophic effect on their numbers.
The project would introduce 5 to 7 million tons of sediment annually in the Barataria basin. It is expected to create more than 6,200 acres of land in its first decade.
When the effects of continued subsidence and sea level rise are taken into account, the net surface area created is projected to be approximately 13,400 acres by 2070, the Corps study says.
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