A flooded street in Delcambre, Iberia Parish, La., during Hurricane Laura, Aug. 27, 2020.(Shutterstock)

USA - A Real Chance to Fortify Our Coastlines Against Worsening Storms

New funding is providing unparalleled opportunities to invest in climate resilience by building natural infrastructure to protect vulnerable communities.

Hurricane season has arrived, but for communities along the coasts still recovering from last year’s devastating season, it has felt inescapable. Economic forecasts are painting a stark picture of the costs of worsening extreme weather — a recent report projected that coastal Louisiana faces $5.5 billion in annual damages due to climate change — and for policymakers looking to prepare, it can feel nothing short of overwhelming.

While it’s clear that America’s coastlines are in crisis, some states on the front lines of climate change are teaching us lessons for preventive action that the rest of the country can take advantage of now. New infusions of state and federal funding are providing unparalleled opportunities to invest in climate resilience, and it’s up to state and local leaders to learn these lessons and ensure that funds go toward effective solutions in the communities where they are needed the most.

The passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) last year provided a nationwide shot in the arm to these efforts, unleashing billions in new federal funding to states that can be put toward climate change resilience projects. Ongoing projects in Gulf Coast states that build natural infrastructure through strategies like sediment diversions, living shorelines and barrier island restoration provide a reliable model for how other states can use this money and other federal funds to bolster their own coastal areas.

Through its Coastal Annual Plan, for example, Louisiana recently approved a record-breaking $1.3 billion for coastal resilience projects, which will go toward rebuilding wetlands and protecting communities vulnerable to land loss and sea-level rise. It’s a long-term, ongoing effort: In the wake of 2010’s catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Gulf Coast region received an infusion of funding for coastal restoration. These initiatives have included crucial investments to protect against storm surges, sea-level rise and tidal flooding — impacts strongly felt in all coastal states.

More than 100 such projects are currently underway. The Golden Triangle Marsh Creation Project, for example, is working to restore ecosystems impacted by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), a federal shipping channel that destroyed and degraded tens of thousands of acres of protective coastal habitat and contributed to the destruction inflicted during Hurricane Katrina. Communities in and around New Orleans that were devastated by MRGO impacts are still awaiting large-scale coastal restoration projects that will help restore coastal habitat and protect communities from climate impacts.

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