With some money from the Deepwater Horizon disaster already flowing to the states for coastal restoration work, a coalition of environmental groups on Tuesday released its list of 19 priority projects that could be done in the next five years.
“Our vision is to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem,” said Doug Meffert, vice president and executive director of the National Audubon Society for Louisiana and a member of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, which released the report.
Other coalition members include representatives from the Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontch-artrain Basin Foundation.
The projects could be paid for by money from civil penalties and other fines from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, mostly levied on oil giant BP. How the money will be spent will be determined by various entities, including the states themselves, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.
David Muth, gulf program director at the National Wildlife Federation, said the money will fuel “one of the largest ecosystem restoration efforts in history.” However, the funds available are limited and it’s necessary that the money be spent in the most effective way possible, he said.
The 19 projects included in the coalition’s report are ones the groups believe can be done on a short time frame and have a large cumulative impact. Each project was taken from the state’s master plan to restore Louisiana’s dwindling coastline, and several of the recommended projects have already been submitted by the state for oil spill funding.
“We see this as our baseline because it was based on solid science,” Natalie Peyronnin, director of science policy, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, of the Environmental Defense Fund, said about the state’s master plan.
Instead of looking at the projects for their individual benefits, the coalition looked at how different projects could work together for a greater benefit and which projects could be done quickly.
“There was a need to see what we really need to get on the ground in the next five years,” she said.
Muth agreed, saying, “There are things that can be done that can begin to make a difference very soon.”
Although not all projects would have to get off the ground at the exact same time to have a cumulative impact, the sooner the projects are completed, the sooner the benefits are realized, Peyronnin said.
“We believe a restoration of a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem starts with restoring a healthy delta ecosystem,” she said.
That delta doesn’t just include the land around the mouth of the Mississippi River, but the report considers all the land connected to the river from Mississippi to Texas.
The 19 projects include four sediment diversions along the Mississippi River including one near Myrtle Grove that has gotten the most attention since it’s the first large sediment diversion the state is considering.
The plan also lists five projects that would help divert fresh water into wetlands to help push back saltwater intrusion and bring new sediment into the marsh.
There are four barrier island restoration recommendations, three recommendations for marsh creation areas, a ridge restoration along Bayou La Loutre as well as a shoreline protection project on the west side of the state near Vermilion Bay.
The plan also recommends an oyster reef restoration in the Biloxi Marsh to help protect wetlands from wave-generated erosion and to provide habitat for oysters and other species.
Questions have been raised about some of these projects, such as whether there’s enough sediment in the river to rebuild land and what effect diversions will have on fisheries. But members of the coalition said those are questions that are being investigated.
Muth said aggressive research is being conducted to help figure out the answers to the questions that loom about these large-scale projects.
“We already have a massive land-loss crisis here in Louisiana,” Muth said. “We need to move forward, and we need to move forward quickly.”
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.