After years of study, the state’s coastal protection authority plans to present recommendations next month about where Mississippi River sediment diversions should be created to build up coastal marsh land that has been slipping away.
Scientists have been dissecting the options, evaluating the potential negative and positive effects of diversions on everything from water quality to fisheries.
Those studies and a dizzying array of computer models are going to help form the basis of the final decision that will pick among the 10 diversions included in the state’s 2012 master plan.
“This is arguably the most important decision the board will face,” Kyle Graham, executive director of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, recently told board members. The selected diversions will be included in the annual plan that comes together in January and February, with money beginning to flow in July.
The coastal authority formed a Diversion Expert Advisory Panel in 2013 with the goal of bringing in scientists from around the country to advise the agency. With support from the Water Institute of the Gulf, the advisory panel presented its fifth report at a CPRA board meeting earlier this month.
The report was full of praise for how the state has moved forward on diversion planning, celebrating both the thoroughness of the work and its responsiveness to communities or industries, like fisheries, that have raised concerns about potential negative economic impacts of diversions.
“The work that has taken place by CPRA staff has happened very quickly and effectively,” said John Wells, the advisory panel’s chairman and director of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. “We currently feel there’s no other restoration project in the country that has come so far so fast.”
Studies have looked at where the river sediment is located, the best ways to capture it and how much is available, as well as examining concerns about navigation channels that might change as a result of diversions. Several computer models have looked at potential impacts on fisheries as salinity levels change with the increase of fresh water.
Some of those studies, such as those examining fisheries, have been done in direct response to concerns from fishermen and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Although recommendations on how to proceed with diversions will be presented at the October CPRA meeting, the discussion will continue through multiple venues including the annual plan development process and the 2017 master plan process which is currently underway.
The next meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority will be held at 9:30 a.m., Oct. 21 in House Committee Room 5 at the State Capitol.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.