Findings and Recommendations
The Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Louisiana—Ecosystem Restoration Study (LCA Study) is the product of many years of planning, scientific investigation, field evaluation of methods for wetland restoration, and consensus building. Those responsible for the development to this stage are commended for their success in overcoming difficult and broad obstacles. However, some elements of the LCA Study raise serious concerns, which are summarized later in this chapter.
Land loss in coastal Louisiana is occurring at a rate that will increase risk to lives and property from storms, as demonstrated by Hurricane Katrina, and will harm ecological, industrial, and agricultural systems in the region. The challenge of protecting and restoring this wetland system is unprecedented in geographic scope, in the variety of the causative forces and the variable role each plays at any given time or location, and in the diversity and intensity of competing stakeholder interests.
Land losses in coastal Louisiana are caused by a variety of natural processes and human actions. However, the role of each causal factor varies with location and time, and the relative contribution of each at a given location is not well quantified. More or less ubiquitous causes of land loss include reduced sediment load in the river due to dams and levees throughout the river basin, reduced sedimentation in the delta due to channelization of the lowermost reaches of the Mississippi River by levees (which direct much of the river-borne sediments to deep water at the terminus of the Birdsfoot Delta), grazing by fur-bearing animals (e.g., nutria), and the natural wetland systems’ tendency to erode in some areas and build in others. Superimposed on these broad influences are relative
sea level rise and localized land loss “hot spots” occurring along growth faults, access canals, and navigation waterways. Some of the individual causative factors encompass both natural and anthropogenic elements. For example, the extraction of oil and gas near growth faults may speed local subsidence events. Further, public interests often support conflicting management policies. For example, maintenance of the canal system along the lowermost reaches of the Mississippi River benefits the shipping industry, but levees and spoil banks along their margins limit delivery of freshwater, sediments, and nutrients to areas in need of wetland restoration and maintenance. Eliminating levees heightens risk of flooding to businesses and homes located along canals and rivers. Restoring the essential and widespread distribution of sediment and freshwater flow, while maintaining stakeholder acceptance of the adverse impacts of such efforts, will be the overarching challenge to future comprehensive efforts to realize the vision espoused by Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coastal Louisiana (Coast 2050).
SOUNDNESS OF APPROACH AND PERFORMANCE METRICS
In general, the strategies employed in the LCA Study are based on methodologies that have been demonstrated and proven largely through the nearly 15 years of efforts carried out under the Coastal Wetland Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA). The LCA Study differs from early efforts, such as CWPPRA, in that (1) it recognizes and attempts to address the need for understanding the natural and social systems that are shaping coastal Louisiana today, and (2) it identifies specific actions over the next 5–10 years to address land loss at specific locations in the area. The budget proposed in the LCA Study gives the two components roughly equal weight. This reflects a strong commitment to developing longer-term efforts to restore and protect Louisiana.
Establishing Realistic Expectations
As discussed in some length in Chapters 2 and 3, full restoration of past Louisiana wetland cover and function will not be possible. The natural and anthropogenic processes contributing to net land loss in coastal Louisiana are significant and pervasive, and they have been operating for decades. Achieving no net loss is not a feasible objective because the social, political, and economic impediments are extensive; the sediment supply is limited; and the affected area is large. The LCA Study’s five restoration features would reduce land loss by about 20 percent from 26.7 square kilometers (km2) per yr (10.3 square miles [mi2] per yr) to 22.3 km2 per yr (8.6 mi2 per yr). More extensive wetland protection than proposed in the
LCA Study would, obviously, require greater efforts to reduce land loss at much greater expense. These facts have to be broadly appreciated to avoid widespread disappointment with the LCA projects.
Louisiana’s coastal restoration plans must acknowledge these limitations prominently and adjust goals and public expectations accordingly. Given that even under optimistic assumptions, the Louisiana coast will continue to suffer land loss; therefore, the emphasis should be on establishing realistic estimates of future landforms and conveying these to stakeholders. Restoration efforts should be focused to maximize targeted ecological, social, and economic benefits while promoting managed retreat in selected regions. (Since land loss will occur in selected areas, sensitive subjects such as these will need to be part of the decision-making process.) This could involve reducing the rate of land loss in key areas and allowing the system to approach natural equilibrium in others. Future efforts must focus more realistically on the location patterns of human settlements relative to project locations, including the option of infrastructure depreciation and abandonment.
Further, since there is a finite availability of water flow and sediment and most of the restoration activities will take decades to provide maximum results, care should be taken to ensure that implementation of an individual project will not preclude other strategies or elements in the future. To achieve this, the development of an explicit map of the expected future landscape of coastal Louisiana should be a priority as the implementation of the LCA Study moves ahead. Such an explicit declaration of the proposed “end state” of restoration efforts in Louisiana provides an important performance metric. Development of such a map will also require meaningful stakeholder involvement and the commitment of decision makers at all levels of local, state, and federal governments.
Local Land-Use Planning and Zoning
As discussed in Chapter 3, efforts to restore significant portions of coastal Louisiana would entail changing the current geographic distribution of land, water, and wetland. Land use and infrastructure development (e.g., roads, pipelines, utilities) have changed in response to the changing coastline. The proposed projects will again force change in the way people work, live, and play in the area. One way to deal efficiently with the change is through comprehensive land-use planning that is coordinated with the planned restoration projects.
A survey of the local parish governments reveals that 10 of the 20 parish governments have a comprehensive plan, and at least four plans are more than 10 years old. All but one of the parishes has a planning department; one is in the Department of Public Works and two others are
citizen commissions. All have subdivision regulations and floodplain management and require building permits so there is familiarity with the idea of government regulation of land. The parishes should develop comprehensive land-use plans in order for there to be orderly and economically efficient relocation of infrastructure, homes, and businesses during coastal restoration (as planned for in the LCA Study). The cost of developing such plans could be part of the cost of the projects borne by the State of Louisiana (National Research Council, 2000c). Clearly, effective land-use plans that act in concert with and support a comprehensive restoration effort will require a widely understood and accepted “end state” of restoration efforts.
Taking a Systems Approach to Coastal Restoration in Louisiana
As discussed above and in Chapters 5 and 6, most of the individual projects proposed in the LCA Study are based on commonly accepted, sound scientific and engineering analyses. However, it is not clear that, in the aggregate, if these projects represent a scientifically sound strategy for addressing coastal erosion at the scale of the affected area. Thus, at foreseeable rates of land loss, the level of effort described by the LCA Study will likely decrease land loss only in areas adjacent to the specific proposed projects. As found in numerous U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) policy statements and recommended in past National Research Council reports, planning and implementation of water resources projects (including those involving environmental restoration) should be undertaken within the context of the larger system (National Research Council, 2004a). This philosophy reflects the recognition that a group of projects within a given watershed or coastal system may interact at a variety of scales to produce beneficial or deleterious effects. Cost-effectiveness analyses discussed in the LCA Study and in supporting documents reflect an effort to identify least-cost alternatives but do not appear to reflect a system-wide effort to maximize beneficial synergies among various projects with regard to habitat loss. The selection of any suite of individual projects in future efforts to restore coastal Louisiana should include a clear effort to maximize the beneficial, synergistic effects of individual projects to minimize or reverse future land loss.
Coastal Louisiana lies at the nexus between the Gulf of Mexico and the nation’s largest watershed (the Mississippi River Basin). The current loss of lands and other environmental problems on and along the delta have many causes, but several of them are the result of the current management of the Mississippi River Basin. Taking a system-wide approach to determining contributing causes and potential approaches to reducing their adverse impact on the environmental quality of coastal Louisi-
ana should include consideration of (1) changes in the sediment flux from the basin resulting from past dam construction on the tributaries to the Mississippi River, (2) the effects of armoring the river banks, (3) the loss of lands in the upper part of the watershed, and (4) the impacts of runoff from activities within the Mississippi River Basin.
Large-Scale Delivery Systems
Annual land loss rates in coastal Louisiana have varied over the last 50 years, declining from a maximum of 100 km2 per yr (39 mi2 per yr) for the period 1956–1978 to as little as 64 km2 per yr (25 mi2 per yr) in the 1990s (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2004a). Although land loss rates appear to have fallen, perhaps reflecting that the loss of the most vulnerable wetlands has already occurred, rates still remain high (26.7 km2 per yr [10.3 mi2 per yr]). Furthermore, actual land building will be experienced only in areas adjacent to the implemented projects.
As discussed in Chapter 6, keeping pace with the relative subsidence rate over the entire delta would require the delivery of sediment-laden waters over long distances, would be extremely costly, and would have an adverse impact on a significant subset of stakeholders. Even accomplishing the objective of maximum wetland restoration and maintenance with reasonable expenditures within strategically selected portions of coastal Louisiana will require much larger-scale projects than are proposed in the LCA Study or have been carried out under CWPPRA. Carrying out these larger-scale projects will likely increase the number of stakeholders who experience adverse impacts from the projects themselves. Although adverse impacts cannot be fully eliminated, preference should clearly be given to larger-scale projects that provide maximum benefit in terms of net land gain, while minimizing the adverse impacts on stakeholders and reducing overall costs per unit of land gained.
Though the size of the area it would impact would still make it controversial, some consideration should be given to an alternative or companion to the planned Third Delta, such as a larger-scale diversion closer to the Gulf of Mexico that would capture and deliver greater quantities of coarse and fine sediments for wetland and barrier island development and maintenance. This diversion could occur above Head of Passes and capture most of the river discharge such that the present channel to the south would essentially be a “slack water” channel that would continue to serve navigation. This would allow a substantial portion of the suspended sediment and a portion of the coarse sediment to nourish the wetlands and barrier islands. A substantial portion of the remaining coarse sediment fraction would be deposited in the slack water channel and would require dredging for navigational purposes. This
dredged material could then be placed predominantly to the west where it would further nourish, maintain, and form barrier islands under the westward-directed natural dispersion. The underlying objective of these efforts should be to capture and utilize significant portions of both the fine and the coarse sediment loads of the Mississippi River.
ADDRESSING KNOWLEDGE GAPS
Chapter 7 discusses a number of technical issues that represent significant knowledge gaps, including the following:
The causes of loss and changes in the rate of loss to determine the long-term prospects of maintaining the coastal Louisiana ecosystem and the activities it supports
The geographic variability in the relative role played by natural and anthropogenic causes of land loss to more effectively target the appropriate solutions
The role of growth fault reactivation in land loss to interpret past land loss patterns, to predict future land loss rates and locations, and to design strategies for land creation on the delta
The limited understanding of the feasibility of engineered methods of sediment delivery over long distances (such as those employed by the dredging industry) to evaluate the cost and feasibility of projects that do not rely on natural processes to distribute sediment
The relationship between bedload, suspended, and washload transport to understand the factors affecting the vertical sediment concentration profile
A robust regional sediment budget to use deterministic models effectively
The economic and societal toll of land loss to frame restoration of coastal Louisiana in terms of national relevance
Stakeholders’ near- and long-term responses to gauge their acceptance of the restoration activities
Overall, these knowledge gaps define two overarching concerns regarding the future magnitude of efforts needed to offset land loss and the acceptance by stakeholders of various large-scale projects. Both of these concerns will best be addressed by proceeding with the LCA Study (with some modifications as discussed throughout this report), while anticipating and responding to information as it becomes available. The Science and Technology (S&T), demonstration project, and adaptive management programs will contribute to the reduction of these and other knowledge gaps through exploring areas of present uncertainty, collecting and ana-
lyzing the monitoring data, and where appropriate, providing input to the charting of new directions and methodologies. There is need, however, to consider some modifications to the S&T, demonstration project, and adaptive management programs, how they interact, and how they are integrated into the overall program management scheme.
As discussed in Chapters 3, 4, and 5, effective management of the efforts proposed in the LCA Study will be a critical factor leading to the overall success of the restoration effort in Louisiana. Expanded efforts described in this report will place further burden on the management structure. The management plan, as described in the LCA Study, lacks clarity concerning the institutional mechanisms proposed in the LCA Study that will be used for decision making and accountability. The proposed decision support system will contribute to resolving this deficiency, and this system should be subject to external peer review. The stakeholder component, which appears to have been effective in the CWPPRA program, is not represented adequately in the efforts described in the LCA Study.
Successful implementation of the LCA Study’s restoration strategies will depend in part on how well the program is being managed. These strategies rely heavily on the interaction of numerous groups and committees that provide direction, assessment, and feedback to the program through an adaptive management process. This is a difficult challenge for the program in and of itself and is only further complicated by state and federal agencies, having to work in full harmony with each other.
The Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management process for the LCA Study is an appropriate effort to integrate emerging technical information into the management process, in addition to the use of sound science in understanding the efficacy of past actions in order to modify or change future actions. Steps should be taken to strengthen the Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management process throughout the management structure.
CWPPRA, Coast 2050, and efforts to develop Louisiana Coastal Area, LA—Ecosystem Restoration: Comprehensive Coastwide Ecosystem Restoration Study (draft LCA Comprehensive Study) placed greater emphasis on stakeholder involvement than is proposed in the LCA Study. Stakeholder participation (including, at a minimum, representation from local government, industry, key organizations, and citizens at large) should to be accounted for in the management structure of the Louisiana coastal area program.
Model Development and Application
As discussed in Chapter 5, the LCA Study proposes the development of process-based models for prediction of coastal response as a central feature of current and future restoration efforts. Modeling will be a key component of the design, operation, and maintenance of the restoration and management of coastal Louisiana. It will also be a valuable tool in evaluating the concerns of stakeholders and explaining the efforts and potential outcomes to diverse audiences because it will enable the consequences of various management alternatives and the regional effects to be more fully understood.
To achieve this objective, it is important that the models used are defensible, accessible, and transparent so that they can be used with confidence, and the uncertainties in model outputs can be quantified. The model codes employed should reflect widely accepted and verified approaches with a community-wide effort at model development and maintenance. The models should also utilize open-source codes with an active program of model refinement that includes quality control, consistent data sets by all users, and appropriately available and useful data. The management of data, tracking of model data sets, calibration of model parameters, and interaction and coordination of model users and developers are important aspects that should be included in the management plan. This effort should be structured to attract synergistic collaborations among modelers worldwide and enhance the current extensive regional expertise in federal agencies, state agencies, and academia.
Integrating Emerging Information into Management Decisions
The knowledge gaps discussed in Chapter 7 can be grouped into two major categories: (1) understanding spatial and temporal trends in future land loss rates without the LCA Study’s proposed projects and (2) stakeholder response. These gaps can be reduced through careful monitoring and program implementation when a meaningful adaptive management strategy is employed. Thus, the adaptive management program will play a major role in collecting and synthesizing data and charting new directions as appropriate. The S&T Program requires a more explicit statement of program responsibilities and means for setting priorities; it must be integrated more effectively into the central management structure through the adaptive management process and include better representation of social sciences and ecological processes. Additional key questions relate to the major causes of land loss, recognizing that the rela-
tive role of various processes is location dependent. The future rates of loss are uncertain, and some evidence suggests that the average rate of land loss across coastal Louisiana may be decreasing. Documented rates of worldwide sea level rise and regional subsidence clearly indicate that in the absence of adequate action, land loss in coastal Louisiana will continue. If, however, rates of land loss are indeed declining, the potential to more fully offset land loss may be greater.
The S&T Program envisioned in the LCA Study is an innovative and essential element and provides a process for planning and assimilating monitoring results and developing adaptive management strategies. In addition, the S&T Program is an appropriate administrative home for model development and maintenance. The proposed S&T Program represents a very positive step in the development of a process to address the need for improved understanding of how coastal Louisiana may respond to various restoration efforts or may evolve in the absence of some of those efforts. However, it is unreasonable to expect any region to have all of the necessary experience and human resources to address most effectively the challenges of the magnitude represented by land loss in coastal Louisiana. Just as the funding of the LCA Study and its extensions includes a combination of state and federal resources, the scientific and other elements of the LCA Study should draw on the best state, national, and international talents available. Therefore, the LCA Study should direct efforts toward capacity building that enables the program to address its stated objectives by drawing on the widest possible pool of national and international technical expertise.
UNDERSTANDING COSTS AND BENEFITS
Although the resources at risk (e.g., industry, agriculture, fisheries, ecosystems, urban areas, petroleum, traditional cultures of the delta) were discussed and, where appropriate, their magnitudes described, the LCA Study included no concerted effort to establish a quantitative link between LCA projects and benefits of storm damage reduction, fisheries improvement, or land building. As understanding of the short- and long-term economic impacts of Katrina and Rita becomes clearer, a more meaningful effort to evaluate the national economic significance of protecting the natural and built environment in coastal Louisiana will be possible. While such information will provide an important context for decision making, it will still be crucial to understand the role wetlands play in protecting specific components of the overall system and to determine how specific restoration efforts can enhance that protection.
The LCA Study states that “execution of the LCA [Study] would make significant progress towards achieving and sustaining a coastal ecosystem that can support and protect the environment, economy, and culture of southern Louisiana and, thus, contribute to the economy and well-being of the nation” (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2004a). The economic analysis provided within the LCA Study and its supporting documents, however, evaluates alternative approaches to meet stated ecosystem restoration objectives, as is consistent with USACE policy for evaluating projects proposed as National Environmental Restoration efforts. Evaluating the benefits to the nation of restoring coastal Louisiana, as implied by the statement of task, would have required USACE planners to carry out cost-benefit analyses more consistent with a National Economic Development appraisal. USACE officials appeared to view the efforts described within the LCA Study as following under National Environmental Restoration as opposed to National Economic Development appraisal. Consequently, they did not attempt to identify and meaningfully quantify the contribution to the economy of the nation. Lacking this information, the committee could not determine whether the economic benefits to the nation are large or small relative to the costs of implementing the LCA projects. Such an analysis would require significant effort and resources that were beyond those available to the committee in the nine months following the release of the LCA Study in November 2004. This said, some characteristics of such an analysis can be articulated.
As discussed in Chapter 6, the LCA Study presents sufficient information about the importance of some components of the natural and built environment in coastal Louisiana (e.g., system of deep water ports, oil and gas receiving and transmission facilities, complex and extensive urban landscape, robust commercial fishery) to suggest that substantial economic interests are at stake in coastal Louisiana and that these interests have national significance. The immediate impacts of Katrina underscore the importance of New Orleans, and adjacent areas of the Gulf Coast, in the national economy. Establishing the true, national economic significance of efforts to restore coastal wetlands in Louisiana as proposed in the LCA Study, however, must go beyond simply identifying and characterizing these components and should include an analysis of how specific restoration efforts will preserve or enhance the value of these components (i.e., some restoration efforts may have little influence on the vulnerabilities of specific components of natural and built environment in coastal Louisiana) and determine how the national economy would respond to their loss or degradation (e.g., what is the capacity for similar components in other regions to compensate for their loss and on what time scales?). If,
as implied by the statement of task, greater emphasis is to be placed on the national economic benefits of restoring and protecting coastal Louisiana, future planning efforts should incorporate meaningful measures of the economic significance of these projects to the nation consistent with procedures normally employed to determine the value of a project or a suite of projects for National Economic Development.
As greater understanding is gained of the short- and long-term economic impacts of Katrina, a more meaningful effort to evaluate the national economic significance of protecting the natural and built environment in coastal Louisiana will be possible. Such information would provide an important context for decision making; however, it will still be important to understand the role that wetlands play in protecting specific components of the overall system and to determine how specific restoration efforts can enhance this protection. Although wetlands and adjacent barrier islands and levees are known to reduce impacts from waves, their role in reducing storm surge is complex and less predictable. Surges contain multiple components, including barometric tide effects, wind stress-induced setup, wave-induced setup, and Coriolis forces. As was pointed out repeatedly in the public media during Katrina and Rita, in the northern hemisphere the eastern side of a hurricane tends to drive water northward in a counterclockwise manner. If a storm stalls off a coast for a significant period of time, it will continue to drive water onshore for a prolonged period, regardless of the nature of any intervening wetland or barrier island. Thus, the potential for reducing risk due to storm surge is more difficult to generalize.
Conversely, the significance of the coastal Louisiana wetlands to the nation in terms of both their inherent uniqueness and the ecosystem services they provide is more thoroughly documented in the LCA Study, its predecessor reports, and the scientific literature. Although efforts to restore and protect Louisiana’s wetlands will likely provide some unknown but potentially significant protection against coastal storms and hurricanes, those efforts should not be evaluated primarily on their significance for National Economic Development.
Although many of the projects considered during development of the LCA Study are larger than many funded under CWPPRA, for the most part, they are still significantly smaller than the large-scale diversions discussed in Chapter 6 and 7. Thus, with some exceptions, project selection in the LCA Study is based on the comparative analysis of a large number of potentially small projects. The end result of evaluating mostly small projects is that mostly small projects emerged as recommendations. On the other hand, the broader wetland ecosystem needs protection from marine processes at the seaward margins of the system and increased inputs of sediments and freshwater from landward. Addressing problems
of this scale with a series of small projects is likely to make little difference unless the projects are designed to maximize synergistic effects or are coupled with some larger-scale efforts. Small projects may be useful for learning how the system works and for developing the confidence necessary for larger-scale project selection. However, it is unlikely that these small projects, operating more or less independently, will have a significant, positive impact on problems of the magnitude currently experienced in coastal Louisiana. Hence, it would seem unlikely that the economic benefits of the projects specifically proposed by the LCA Study (as opposed to wetlands restoration in general) will be large relative to the program costs.
DEVELOPING A COMPREHENSIVE PLAN
Many of the shortcomings of the LCA Study identified in this report may be attributed to the rather brief amount of time (less than one year) taken to produce the near-term plan presented in the LCA Study from the draft LCA Comprehensive Study. Much of the stakeholder involvement and economic analysis that supported the restoration framework review that characterized the draft comprehensive plan was absent (in the case of stakeholder involvement) or significantly weakened (in the case of restoration feature selection) in the LCA Study. (While a comprehensive plan is needed, this does not necessarily imply endorsement of the draft LCA Comprehensive Study.)
The phased approach that characterizes the LCA Study has advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is a definite time over which to implement and evaluate specific projects, revise the projections of benefits from program extensions, and plan these extensions. Both the executors and the supporters of the LCA Study will, therefore, be conscious of the need to produce significant results and demonstrate success. In this regard, the phased approach will have a salutary effect. The disadvantages of the phased approach in the LCA Study include the same need to demonstrate solid progress in the 10-year project period. The sorting criteria related to timing have resulted in the selection of projects that were already in the USACE and CWPPRA planning pipeline. The formalized temporal constraint on projects selected precluded consideration of projects with solid potential for long-term benefits that had not yet been fully designed (and, thus, cannot be undertaken in five years or completed in 10).
Given this temporal constraint, it is important to note that, by definition, the activities proposed within the LCA Study are intended to lay a foundation for more effective and robust efforts to preserve and protect coastal Louisiana. As discussed above, the LCA Study points out that
implementing the restoration efforts proposed would reduce this land loss by about 20 percent. Furthermore, actual land building will be experienced only in areas adjacent to the implemented projects. The significant investment represented by these projects and the efforts to develop the tools and understanding necessary to support future restoration and protection efforts will yield a substantial return of benefits only if future projects are carried out in a comprehensive manner. The funding needed to carry out the activities described in the LCA Study should be recognized as the first of many increments that will be required if substantial progress is to be made.
Project Selection Methodology
As discussed in Chapters 5 and 6, in addition to lacking fundamental transparency, the project selection process as documented in the LCA Study creates a somewhat inaccurate appearance of legitimacy and rigor. There is insufficient attention to the large knowledge gaps surrounding project benefits measurement, including the somewhat arbitrary weighting of various ecological and physical endpoints of projects. The project selection process primarily uses ecological benefits early on in project formulation then uses least-cost alternatives for aggregates of projects (referred to as “frameworks” by USACE) as a filtering criterion to accept and reject frameworks based on their socioeconomic value. However, since the physical and ecological relationships between projects in a framework are not clear, and frameworks optimized for cost include many projects that are not chosen for implementation, the actual role of socioeconomic factors in project selection is not clear.
Furthermore, although the cost-effectiveness analysis was carried out on frameworks, the selection decision was made for individual features. Since the cost-effectiveness was calculated for groups, there appears to be some potential for individual features that might score poorly if singled out during a cost-effectiveness analysis to be elevated by more cost-effective projects in the same group. Since the selection process then breaks the groups down into individual features, it would seem more appropriate to consider the cost-effectiveness of individual features, unless the projects can be shown to be physically, ecologically, or logistically interrelated. The rationale for this analysis is poorly articulated in the LCA Study, reinforcing the need for greater transparency. Obviously, if the more comprehensive approach called for in this report were used, determining the cost-effectiveness of a single project in the absence of all others would not be appropriate.
These criteria and the need to demonstrate solid near-term success likely resulted in the avoidance of bold innovative projects that would
(1) affect significant sediment delivery to the system, such as abandonment of the Birdsfoot Delta; (2) maximize synergistic effects for reducing land loss over longer time scales by the selection of strategically located or larger-scale projects; or (3) address some of the difficult issues associated with stakeholder response. While the efforts preceding the LCA Study have achieved a laudable degree of unanimity among stakeholders on the conceptual restoration plan, this unanimity will be tested by the difficult decisions associated with implementation of the larger-scale projects needed to achieve greater sediment, water, and nutrient delivery over a larger area more effectively. The project selection procedure requires more explicit accounting of the synergistic effects of various projects and improved transparency of project selection to sustain stakeholder support. Furthermore, beneficial, synergistic interaction among projects cannot be assumed but should be demonstrated through preconstruction analysis.
It is important to note that by definition, the activities proposed within the LCA Study are intended to lay a foundation for more effective and robust efforts to preserve and protect coastal Louisiana. By its own analysis, the LCA Study points out that constructing the five restoration features it proposes would reduce land loss by about 20 percent (from 26.7 km2 per yr [10.3 mi2 per yr] to 22.3 km2 per yr [8.6 mi2 per yr]) at an estimated total cost of $864 million (or $39,400 per hectare [$15,900 per acre]) over the 50-year life of the projects, not including maintenance and operational costs. Furthermore, actual land building will be experienced only in areas adjacent to the implemented projects. The significant investment represented by these projects and the efforts to develop the tools and understanding necessary to support future restoration and protection efforts will yield a substantial return of benefits only if future projects are carried out in a comprehensive manner. The funding required to carry out the activities described in the LCA Study should be recognized as the first of many increments that will be required if substantial progress is to be made. A comprehensive plan to produce a more clearly articulated future distribution of land in coastal Louisiana is needed. Such a plan should identify clearly defined milestones to be achieved through a series of synergistic projects at a variety of scales. (While a comprehensive plan is needed, this does not necessarily imply endorsement of the draft LCA Comprehensive Study, which was not formally released by USACE or reviewed as part of this study.) The review detailed in this report found no instance where the proposed activities, if initiated, would preclude development and implementation of a more comprehensive approach. Conversely, many examples were identified where implementing the proposed activities would support a more comprehensive approach. Thus, the efforts proposed in the LCA Study should be implemented, except
where specific recommendations for change have been made in this report and only in conjunction with the development of a comprehensive plan.
The Aftermath of Katrina and Rita
As the State of Louisiana and the nation begin to recover from Katrina and Rita, efforts to restore wetlands in Louisiana will undoubtedly compete with reconstruction and levee maintenance or enhancement efforts. As this report and numerous other National Research Council reports have pointed out, efforts to design and implement water resource projects (including environmental restoration and flood control projects) should be carried out within a watershed and coastal system context. Efforts to rebuild the Gulf Coast and reduce coastal hazards in the area, therefore, should be integral components of an effective and comprehensive strategy to restore and protect coastal Louisiana wetlands.