Gulf of Mexico

A lesson from Louisiana: Saving coastal communities

As coastal Louisiana continues to degrade, communities are left increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic storm flooding. The coastal wetlands, a century ago treated as disposable and often dredged for canals or drained and leveed for agriculture, grazing, or development, are actually an ecologically crucial habitat which acts as a natural buffer against extreme flooding. Restoring these coastal wetlands is imperative to protect Louisiana’s coast from further decline due to manmade and natural causes.

There is a clearer way forward to restore these fragile and valuable wetlands with the establishment of a new approach known as “Pay for Success” that incentivizes best possible outcomes.

With little attention from the public or press, in 2017 Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) and the Louisiana State Legislature authorized in statute — and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) is beginning to implement today — a fundamentally different approach to building coastal marsh.

Anyone acquainted with the history of coastal engineering knows the story of engineer James Buchanan Eads and his wildly successful effort in the 1880s to tame the very lowest reach of the Mississippi River.

For eons the river had flowed shallow and uncontrolled into the Gulf; Eads’ scheme was to build massive jetties to direct a more concentrated flow at the river’s mouth, and scour a deep channel in the perennially shallow river bottom at South Pass. His great public work was a demonstrable success and allowed New Orleans to become the nation’s largest port.

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