Gulf of Mexico
Kezia Setyawan / WWNO An aerial shot of wetlands in southeast Louisiana.

LA - Louisiana unveils update to 50-year, $50 billion plan to restore its eroding coastline

Officials in Louisiana unveiled the latest version of the state’s 50-year, $50 billion plan to restore its degraded coast and enhance hurricane protection on Friday afternoon, kicking off what will be a months-long approval process.

By law, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority must update its coastal master plan every six years and let the latest science guide each iteration. The 2023 draft plan marks the fourth released by the agency since it formed in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina. It released its first master plan two years later in 2007.

“Addressing Louisiana’s land loss crisis and protecting coastal communities requires the comprehensive and integrated approach that projects identified in the master plan offer,” said CPRA Chairman Chip Kline. “No other state in the country has a plan like ours utilizing the best available science and engineering to preserve our coast and culture for generations to come.”

At its core, the Coastal Master Plan relies on computer modeling, academic research and public input to select a suite of projects across south Louisiana to both combat the state’s land loss crisis and lower the risk of property damage from tropical storms. The projects range from building new marsh and natural habitats to constructing levees.

The master plan acts as a guiding document to prioritize projects based on how much they’ll help communities should the funding become available. Currently, most projects funded under the program are paid for by BP settlement dollars resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, though that money is expected to run out within the next decade.

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Similar to past releases, the draft plan emphasizes the stark reality facing Louisiana’s coast over the next 50 years if action isn’t taken. The master plan anticipates at least 1.5 feet of global sea level rise, driven largely by climate change, by 2070. Seas would rise even higher in some areas of the state that are sinking at faster rates.

"It details Louisiana’s risks—and opportunities—using so many different angles and scenarios, and that information is critical to how we think about living and working here today, tomorrow and well into our future," said Simone Maloz, campaign director of the coastal advocacy coalition Restore the Mississippi River Delta.

A so-called future without action means the loss of another 1,100 square miles of land by 2070 and more than two million Louisianians at risk of flooding from storm surge, potentially resulting in upwards of $15 billion in damage each year, according to the 2023 draft plan. That land loss leaps up to 3,000 square miles, more than twice the size of Rhode Island, depending on how quickly global sea levels rise.

But the plan does highlight the progress that has been made in the past 13 years as investment in coastal restoration and protection has steadily increased. For example, nearly all of Louisiana’s barrier islands – the state’s first line of defense against Gulf storms – have been restored, representing just a handful of the more than 140 projects completed since CPRA was created. Since 2005, $21.4 billion has been spent on pursuing these kinds of projects.

The 2023 plan continues the efforts to stave off some of the worst impacts of land loss and climate change, with 73 proposed projects in the works that aimed to lower the threat of storm surge and maintain as much of a natural buffer between communities and the Gulf of Mexico as possible.

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