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LA - 55 Leading Scientists Express Overwhelming Support for Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion

Co-authored letter stresses urgent need for vital restoration project to sustain Louisiana’s coast

NEW ORLEANS (June 1, 2021) — A group of more than 55 natural and physical scientists, engineers and social scientists with a combined 1,300 years of research and technical experience related to Louisiana’s coast have co-authored and signed a letter voicing support based on their scientific knowledge and expertise for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, the single largest ecosystem restoration project in U.S. history. The group’s collective interdisciplinary work has informed the state’s efforts on the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan and other coastal restoration and protection efforts.

The concept of a sediment diversion to restore Louisiana’s wetlands has been proposed since 1984, when the Army Corps first released a feasibility study for a diversion at Myrtle Grove 35 years ago. The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, which will be located on the West Bank of Plaquemines Parish, reached a significant milestone on March 15 when the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the project. The diversion will reconnect the Mississippi River to adjacent wetlands to build and maintain thousands of acres of land in the Barataria Basin, which is experiencing one of the highest rates of land loss on the planet.

“We know all too well from our research and life experiences what is at stake for the ecosystems and people of coastal Louisiana,” the experts write. “There is an opportunity in Louisiana to invest in restoration to build a more climate resilient future for Louisiana’s coast.”

Speaking to the development of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, the group details the history of the project and extensive research conducted using the best available science and modeling. While the experts acknowledge that there will be changes to the basin, they all agree that the future of Louisiana’s deltaic wetlands depends on wise investment in restoration projects that provide long-term benefits to our coast. The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion is an important step towards a more climate-resilient future for Louisiana.

“The Mid-Barataria diversion gives us a chance to keep Barataria Bay from disappearing rapidly. And perhaps surprisingly, most living marine resources are better off when the diversion is built compared to a future without it,” said Dr. Kim de Mutsert, Assistant Professor, School of Ocean Science and Engineering, University of Southern Mississippi and one of the signers.

In the letter, the scientists acknowledge that a future without the diversion will cause significant negative changes and disruptions to Louisiana’s coast and the people and resources it supports saying: “Without the diversion major changes are also expected to occur and the ecosystem will continue to degrade with continued sea level rise and wetland loss.”

“As chair of a 12-person expert panel on river diversions that was convened from 2013-2016 at the request of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, I gained deep understanding and appreciation of river diversions as a powerful, much-needed land-building approach for stemming the demise of coastal Louisiana,” said Dr. John T. Wells, Dean and Director, Virginia Institute of Marine Science/Deltaic Processes. “The science and engineering are well-established, and time is now of the essence for moving ahead with the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. This diversion project will indeed be transformational for Louisiana and will be recognized throughout the world as a model for best practices in adaptive management.”

The experts call for ongoing monitoring and research to measure the diversion’s success and better understand coastal Louisiana’s changing environment, the diversion’s impact to people and to inform the robust adaptive management program that will inform decisions related to project operations. Additionally, the group supports the establishment of an independent and multidisciplinary science and technical advisory council — including physical scientists, ecologists, sociologists and other experts — to advise operation managers.

“Restoring some of the natural processes that formed Louisiana’s coast in the first place is essential for the greater good of this unique region, but the immediately affected populations deserve the fullest support to cope with the challenges of life in such a dynamic landscape” says Dr. Torbjörn Törnqvist, Vokes Geology Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Tulane University and signer of the letter.

The release of the DEIS has included a public comment period offering individuals and stakeholders an opportunity to play an active role in the restoration process. Following the public comment period, which ends June 3, the Corps will issue a final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision on the project as part of the regulatory process required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group also released a Restoration Plan identifying how the project will help restore the ecosystem in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“The Draft Environmental Impact Statement continues a long history of coastal science here in Louisiana,” said Alex S. Kolker, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, and another signer.

  • To read the full letter by the scientists, visit this page.
  • To read the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, visit this page.
  • To hear what supporters of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion are saying, visit this page.
  • To learn more about the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, visit this page.

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