Posted on July 5, 2023
Over 2,000 square miles of land have been lost in the past 100 years due to natural and manmade causes. The state intends to spend $1 billion annually for the next several decades to protect what remains of its coastal areas
Coastal Louisiana is disappearing at an alarming rate. Over 2,000 square miles of land have been lost to the sea in the past 100 years. Wetlands the size of a football field vanish every 100 minutes. The causes are both natural and manmade. Stronger and more frequent storms, canals cut in pursuit of oil and attempts to control the Mississippi River with dams, levees and flood walls have all contributed to the problem.
The loss of millions of acres of wetlands has left Louisiana with fewer natural defenses against future storm surge flooding and rising sea levels that threaten coastal communities and industries alike. It is unlikely that the Gulf Coast will ever return to what it once was. But since Katrina, the state has committed billions of dollars to halt or at least slow the erosion of its shoreline.
A Coordinated Effort
Spurred on by the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the Louisiana Legislature created the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), tasked with coordinating state and federal efforts toward coastal protection and restoration. The CPRA presented its first Coastal Master Plan in 2007, setting 50-year goals and guiding billions of dollars of investment in the design and implementation of restoration and risk reduction projects.
The CPRA is required to update the master plan every six years using the latest science and data, and accommodating shifting goals and lessons learned. The 2023 Coastal Master Plan — the fourth — was unanimously approved by the Legislature this spring. In a statement, Gov. John Bel Edwards declared that “the projects identified … will restore and maintain over 300 square miles of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and reduce expected annual damage by up to $15 billion.” Since 2007, CPRA has overseen the completion of over 150 projects and directed more than $21 billion for coastal reclamation and mitigation efforts.
The 2023 Coastal Master Plan calls for 77 projects aimed at preserving and protecting the coast, including the restoration and maintenance of over 300 square miles of Louisiana’s wetlands. Projects are chosen for their long-term viability and whether or not restored lands will survive 50 years or more.
Additionally, the latest version of the plan identifies a dozen risk reduction projects, including building new levees and strengthening existing barriers to protect communities from flooding. All told, the state intends to spend $1 billion annually for the next several decades. “We are pretty efficient in how we spend our dollars,” says Simone Maloz, a director with Restore the Mississippi River Delta (RMRD), a coalition of groups working with CPRA. “And that’s important for us to build defenses today.”
In the years after Katrina, the federal government spent billions of dollars shoring up coastal defenses. Billions more continue to come from fines and settlements resulting from the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. “But that money runs out in 2032,” says Maloz. “We have got to find other sources of funding to be able to sustain this billion-dollar-a-year program.”
“The master plan had to go through the entire Louisiana Legislature,” Maloz continues. “And it once again received a unanimous vote from both the House and the Senate. Even people in North Louisiana understand how critical this issue is. It’s not just a coastal issue and not just a Louisiana issue. It has ramifications that stretch to North Louisiana, to the Gulf and beyond.”