Coastal Louisiana is in trouble. The state’s once vast system of coastal wetlands and estuaries has shrunk by more than 1,800 square miles and more loss is on the way. We can debate the causes for that, but what is not debatable is that our state is disappearing fast and our options for keeping any significant part of it are extremely limited.
For years, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion has been a linchpin of Louisiana’s coastal protection and restoration plans. Basically, the project will reintroduce the waters and sediments of the Mississippi River back into a landscape the river once built but has been divorced from. Despite all of that planning and discussion, there are still uncertainties about the project and questions about its negative impacts and who will bear them. Some of those uncertainties involve questions of science and engineering that are way beyond my expertise to second-guess. I do know something about the process that authorized and funded the project and there is little prospect of doing something meaningful other than the MBSD.
The MBSD alone won’t save our coast. It will need to be supplemented by a wide array of other projects and programs to help communities adapt to the changes ahead. But it is inconceivable that our coast has a fighting chance without projects of the MBSD’s scale — projects that reengage the river with the coast it built and do it soon. The choice is not between dropping MBSD and keeping our coast as it is. The choice is between not doing the MBSD and losing our coast and all that entails. Because, if we are unable to find a way to move the MBSD forward, then I don’t see us coming together around any other major projects in time for them to matter. That is where we are.
director, Tulane Center for Environmental Law