Louisiana Environmental Restoration
Louisiana’s greatest environmental problem has been the continuing loss of its coastal wetlands. The state loses approximately 25 square miles per year. The causes of coastal land loss are both natural and manmade. Natural causes include erosion, subsidence and saltwater intrusion. However, many of man’s activities have exacerbated coastal land loss. These activities include; channel dredging, dredging of oil and gas access canals, channelization or straightening of natural waterways, construction of levees for flood control, as well as general development activities in the coastal zone.
Undoubtedly, saltwater intrusion is the major culprit in much of Louisiana’s coastal land loss, with the cumulative effect of all other listed activities having a huge impact. Man’s activities such as channel dredging allow salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to flow further inland into fresher marshes. The vegetation in these inland marshes is unable to survive in the elevated salinities. Once the vegetation dies, the soil holding ability of the roots is lost allowing the soils to be washed away with tidal exchanges.
The battle to stem coastal erosion in Louisiana is a long and expensive one. The battle employs two different strategies; restoration and defense. Restoration involves the reestablishment of historical salinity regimes through hydrologic restoration and the use of sediment laden waters or dredge spoil to rebuild wetlands. Freshwater introduction into deteriorated marshes also helps recovery by introducing nutrients and reducing salinities.
Defensive methods utilize structures such as rock breakwaters, terraces, Christmas tree fences, earthen dikes and water control structures to restore hydrology and reduce saltwater intrusion.
Louisiana's Coastal Zone
- Over 40% of our nations wetlands are found in Louisiana.
- Approximately 80% of the nation’s wetlands losses occur in Louisiana.
- 70% of the state’s population lives in the coastal zone, which is located south of an east – west line marked by Interstate 10.
- Louisiana’s 4.2 million acres of coastal wetlands are a national resource based on their sheer magnitude and productivity.
- Coastal wetlands loss in Louisiana approximates 25 square miles annually. At these rates, the public use value of this loss is estimated to be in excess of $37 billion by 2050.
- Louisiana’s master plan for coastal restoration, “Coast 2050”, and the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA)interagency task force requirea well informed public for the participatory aspects of coastal restoration.
- Annually, about $50 million of federal and state funds are invested inprojects to help reduce coastal land loss.
- Approximately 80% of Louisiana’s wetlands are privately owned.
- Coastal wetland owners face dwindling revenues from surface use. Such revenues fund preventive maintenance in wetlands.
- The nation’s largest coastal riverine wetlands resource, the Atchafalaya Basin, faces multiple use conflicts associated with ownership rights.
- The largest number of “for profit” wetland mitigation banks is in Louisiana.
Restoration of upland areas is carried on in watersheds across the state to return land in cultivation to woodlands or grass. These programs are conducted in part with technical support from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Administration from the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Two of these federal programs called WRP (Wetlands Reserve Program) and CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) are aimed at returning highly erodible lands and lands subjected to flooding to more natural states that help protect soil and surface waters. More details on these and other conservation programs can be found at http://www.la.nrcs.usda.gov
Resources and Programs
The LSU Agricultural Center, a campus of Louisiana State University and A & M College, conducts research, education and extension programs to assist federal and state agencies, municipalities, business, industry, agricultural and forest producers and processors and private citizens in protecting and preserving water quality. Research and education programs on environmental and water quality protection are also conducted in the Engineering and Environmental Science Departments at other LSU campuses.
The LSU Agricultural Center’s Cooperative Extension Service develops and delivers educational programs to all audiences in every parish of the state. These programs provide research-based information to the people of the state. Some Extension educational programs addressing environmental restoration are:
An Interpretive Topic Series on Coastal Restoration. - Coastal habitat degradation is perhaps no where more prominent than in Louisiana, where 1000 square miles of wetlands have been lost since the 1930s. The most widely advocated strategy for stemming Louisiana’s coastal land loss crisis involves returning the Mississippi River to coastal marshes. Yet, conflicts have emerged over the short-term implications of this technique on estuarine fisheries. Controversial issues such as this one provide the basis for a recent extension initiative by the LSU AgCenter titled, An Interpretive Topic Series on Coastal Restoration.
Youth Education Programs – The LSU AgCenter Louisiana Sea Grant sponsors many programs designed to engage young people in the various components of coastal habitat restoration. Programs such as Marsh Maneuvers and Coastal Roots provide hands-on education and coastal resource stewardship opportunities to thousands of students across Louisiana.
- LA Coast
- The Impact of Federal Programs on WetLands-Vol.II
- Louisiana Gap Analysis Project
- School of the Coast and Environment
- Louisiana Coastal Wetland Restoration
- LSU Agricultural Economics and AgriBusiness
- LSU Agcenter - Portrait of an Estuary
- LSU Coastal Wetland Planning, Protection and Restoration
Scientific research is the basis for development of new technologies to improve environmental restoration. Researchers at Land Grant Universities work to develop these new technologies and evaluate their benefits. Some examples of major environmental restoration research efforts in Louisiana include:
Biological Approaches to Coastal Wetlands Restoration works to genetically improve plants and develop seed-based propagation technology needed to economically restore extensive areas of eroding or restored coastal wetlands.
Economic Investigations of Louisiana's Coastal and Wetland Resources quantifies the market and non-market value of the state's coastal wetlands and examines alternatives policy and commercial initiatives for coastal restoration and management.
Genetic Improvement of Smooth Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) for Conservation and Restoration of the Louisiana Coast develops genetically improved Spartina alterniflora plants with desirable attributes for restoration of coastal wetlands.
Benefits and Costs of Resource Policies Affecting Public and Private Land quantitatively measures the spatially and ecologically disaggregate value of the state's coastal wetlands for the purpose of improving the development and siting of restoration and protection projects.
Enhancing the Success of Vegetative Planting to Stabilize Coastal Louisiana establishes habitat appropriate for planting of various marsh and dune species that are suitable for vegetative stabilization of restored coastal wetlands and identifies management practices that result in rapid establishment of plant communities. The project also estimates the loss of coastal sediments in the Barataria Basin and the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and organic carbon contained in eroded sediments.
College and University Education
Youth and continuing adult education are critical to develop new talent and human resources to address the water quality issues of the future. Educational curricula in environmental restoration are available within several departments at the LSU AgCenter. Graduate and undergraduate programs in key departments include: