Private companies restoring wetlands in Plaquemines Parish are employing mitigation bank process _lowres

Rendering provided by Restoration Systems -- Heavy equipment work to dredges sediment delivered from the Mississippi River to help rebuild wetlands in Plaquemines Parish.

Although there's a lot of new attention to public works, courtesy of President Donald Trump's campaign to rebuild America's infrastructure, there will be difficulties aplenty in getting much done. Funding in an era of a giant federal debt is obviously one hurdle.

But there are also many ways in which President Trump's ambitions to "rebuild America" can bring some help to Louisiana.

Steve Cochran of the Environmental Defense Fund, once an aide to former Gov. Buddy Roemer, calls coastal protection and restoration one of America's great infrastructure opportunities, as well as obligations.

"In South Louisiana, the water management industry — which includes coastal restoration, protection and urban water management — is growing faster than any other major sector in Louisiana's coastal zone today," Cochran wrote in Forbes magazine recently. "At a time when other sectors have been losing jobs, water management has already created some 44,000 new opportunities along the state's coast."

The jobs, in conjunction with Louisiana's long-range master plan for coastal preservation, represent economic as well as environmental benefits that could be applied in other coastal regions, Cochran said.

"Many components of the Louisiana plan are transferable to other parts of the United States that experience similar risks along the Gulf, Atlantic and Pacific coasts — including coastal areas in Mississippi, Virginia and even California, a state vulnerable to climate change and variable weather," Cochran said, citing the recent flooding and evacuations related to the Oroville Dam region in northern California.

The projects under way can protect "our coasts (that) have largely been stripped of their natural protections under the pressures of erosion, development, straightjacketed rivers — and now, rising seas," said Cochran. "This has left major cities such as New York and New Orleans swamped by storm surge, caused billions of dollars in damage to economically significant ports, highways and other infrastructure, and racked up tens of billions of dollars in economic losses."

Avoiding those kinds of catastrophes is an obvious benefit, but water management in the larger sense provides a new industry that can take differing forms compared to the old structures of levees and dams.

"Wetlands, barrier islands, coastal forests, dunes and reefs — all natural infrastructure features — act as speed bumps and shock absorbers to slow the speed of damaging waves, floods and winds," Cochran said. "By restoring these coastal features, we are putting that infrastructure in place."

The environmental benefits are thus another plus in the new industry of water management. We hope that the U.S. government will come through with the level of commitment that will make a difference in Louisiana, but it is an investment that could, as Cochran said, pay big dividends across the nation in the future.