One Year Later: Gulf Coast Restoration Plan Released

One year after President Obama established the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, the group issued its strategy for reversing the decline of the region’s ecosystem.

The Task Force says its preliminary report is the first formal agreement on what the priorities should be for coastal restoration.

The Task Force includes representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as the five Gulf States and 10 other federal agencies. They held over 40 public hearings before preparing this plan. 

Even before the disastrous BP oil spill last year, "The Gulf of Mexico endured decades of decline that threatened the environmental and economic health of this region," says EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "This strategy is designed to prepare the region for transitioning from a response to the spill into a long-term recovery that supports the vital ecosystem and the people who depend on it."

"The report attempts to begin reversing 80 years of mismanagement," says Garret Graves, Task Force vice-chair and chair of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana. "It identifies critical issues such as changes in river management, the use of dredged sediment, navigation channel bank stabilization, and the need to expedite the snail’s pace process of implementing water resources projects. History has proven that being reactive on disaster mitigation costs exponentially more. This report is an important first step in moving toward a proactive strategy as recognized through the implementation of the state’s coastal master plan."

The report’s major recommendations are:

1. Restore and conserve habitat – Stop the loss of critical wetlands, sand barriers and beaches, and key habitats for a wide range of fish and other animals.

Creating channels and levees from dredging the lower Mississippi has disconnected the vast wetland delta from the source of sediments that built it over thousands of years.

The plan is to restore that sediment supply so that it can build up eroded wetlands and ultimately reconnect them to their historic source of sediments. 

To help do this, the strategy recommends prioritizing ecosystem restoration by ensuring that social, environmental and economic outcomes are fully considered in all river management decisions. It should be placed on equal footing with other priorities such as navigation and flood damage risk reduction.

They also recommend expanding conservation areas in addition to restoring and conserving coastal and near-shore habitats.

2. Restore Water Quality such as Nutrient Flow into the Gulf.

The "Dead Zone" in the Gulf – the largest hypoxic zone in the US and second-largest in the world – is caused by the input of excess nutrient pollution to the Gulf, most of which comes from upstream from states along the Mississippi River.

Nitrogen fertilizer from crops needs to be controlled, for example, as it travels down the Mississippi River and ends up in the Gulf. 

It will be a challenge to address this since there are so many states involved. They aslo recommend collaborating with Mexico to assess and reduce emissions from oceangoing vessels in the Gulf that degrade water quality.

3. Enhance Resiliency Among Coastal Communities

The task force proposes to work with each Gulf state to build greater integrated capacity through effective coastal improvement plans, such as community planning, risk assessment and smart growth implementation.

The Task Force will begin immediately reviewing existing policies, programs and regulations that are slowing down restoration progress, particularly in habitat restoration. They  will also find ways to get restoration efforts going and to measure success. 

Unfortunately, the recommendations come at a time of severe fiscal restraint and resistance to to implementing large projects, many of which are necessary to revive the Gulf.

President Obama called for the creation of the task force after Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, submitted a report on the Gulf’s health after the three-month BP oil spill. Under the president’s plan, a permanent council will implement the task force’s strategy along with relevant federal and state agencies, and nonprofits. 

Funding will largely come from Clean Water Act civil penalties resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A bill is winding its way through the Senate to direct four-fifths of the spill penalties to coastal restoration, and a companion bill was introduced in the House last week.

Here’s the report:

Website: [sorry this link is no longer available]     
(Visited 7,260 times, 2 visits today)

Post Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *