Posted on December 14, 2020
Billions of dollars could be spent on navigation channels, levees, coastal restoration
The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that could send billions of dollars to Louisiana for water infrastructure projects such as deepening navigation channels, raising new levees and restoring more of the coast and wetlands.
The bill also could get Louisiana off the hook for as much as $600 million in interest that the state now must pay over 30 years, as it reimburses the federal government for the state’s share of building the $14.6 billion post-Katrina levee system in New Orleans.
The legislation is a negotiated House-Senate version of a bill that was pending in the Senate, and it mirrors a bill originally approved by the House in July. The House approved the new version Tuesday, but it doesn’t become law unless the Senate approves it in the waning days of the 116th Congress, which ends Jan. 3, and President Donald Trump does not veto it.
The Louisiana projects — many inserted into the original House version by Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, or by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson — include speeding the deepening of the Houma Navigation Canal in Terrebonne Parish and the Baptiste Collette Bayou Canal in Plaquemines Parish.
But the new version also includes language requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to resurrect a long-dormant study of how to ease rainfall flooding in the Hoey’s Cut area of Metairie by pumping rainwater runoff to the Mississippi River instead of into the 17th Street Canal.
It also includes language requiring a long-dormant federal-state task force to identify new ways of funding coastal restoration and protection projects in a report to be filed with Congress within a year.
The bill, which would become the Water Resources Development Act, contains language authorizing the Corps to begin or continue water control, navigation and levee system projects and studies across the United States, and to determine how money is used to operate and maintain existing and new projects. The money to pay for the projects is a separate matter that would be included in annual appropriations bills.
“This legislation comes on the tail end of a hurricane season where Louisiana was threatened by seven major tropical storms or hurricanes – a reminder why it’s critical that we continue pushing for stronger flood protection and projects to restore the coast and revitalize our economy,” Graves said. “This bill advances Louisiana and our country, and I am looking forward to seeing the Senate amplify our needs before it is signed into law by President Trump.”
Said Scalise: “Along with members of our congressional delegation, I fought hard to secure reforms that protect Louisiana families from being forced to pay bloated tabs when critical flood protection and coastal restoration projects aren’t delivered by the Army Corps of Engineers in a timely and affordable manner,” referring to the 14 years under which the New Orleans-area levee system has been under reconstruction since Katrina.
“I’m also proud to have secured authorizations for deepening Baptiste Collette, the Houma Navigation Canal and Port Fourchon Belle Pass, all of which will enhance Louisiana’s ability to move commerce on our waterways and strengthen our position as a leading export state and a top producer of our nation’s oil and natural gas,” Scalise said.
Here are more highlights of the legislation:
Require the Corps to study how the Mississippi River contributes to algae blooms that create the low-oxygen “dead zone” along Louisiana’s coast.
New feasibility studies
Authorize Corps to conduct these new feasibility studies, the first step towards creating a new construction project, of:
- Whether an existing project to restore beach erosion and the hurricane levee in Grand Isle can include periodic beach nourishment in the future. This year, several of the hurricanes that hit the state’s coastline caused significant damage to both the levee and beaches along the state’s only populated barrier island.
- Whether a flood risk management project should be built in the Cataouatche Subbasin area of West Jefferson, which could include a major new hurricane risk reduction levee.
- Whether additional flood risk management and storm damage reduction projects can be developed to reduce flooding in the Hoey’s Basin area of Metairie, including a study of the proposed “pump to the river” concept that was originally recommended 15 years ago during development of the post-Hurricane Katrina levee system.
Expedite pending studies
Require Corps to expedite feasibility reports on:
- A flood control project for the Amite River and its tributaries in the Baton Rouge area.
- A coastal storm risk management project – proposed to be an expansion of levees already under construction in St. Charles and Terrebonne parishes – to improve hurricane storm surge and rainfall protection in the Upper Barataria Basin.
Authorizes full flood risk management study for Tangipahoa Parish.
Requiring Coastal Louisiana Ecosystem Protection and Restoration Task Force, which was supposed to be created under the 2007 version of Water Resources Development Act, to report to Congress on the status of coastal restoration and hurricane protection in Louisiana. The report would outline the financial participation in those efforts of each federal agency that’s a member of the task force.
Require Corps to develop a plan to improve management of flood waters on the lower Mississippi River — from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to the Gulf of Mexico — using all tools available, including floodways and reservoirs. That study would require the Corps to consider various proposals included in Louisiana’s coastal Master Plan, among them:
- Diverting sediment at Ama and diverting freshwater at Union on the river above New Orleans
- Increasing the flow of water from the Atchafalaya River into the Terrebonne Basin
- A Manchac Landbridge Diversion to divert water and sediment from the Bonnet Carre Spillway into wetlands to its west.
But it also would require the Corps to consider mitigating the adverse impacts of flood control structures, such as the Bonnet Carre Spillway, to the Mississippi Sound, Lake Pontchartrain basin, Breton Sound, Barataria Basin, Atchafalaya Basin and other outlets of the Corps-managed Mississippi River system.