Scientists Release Recommendations for Coastal Louisiana

A team of scientists and community experts has released key recommendations to maintain and build land in coastal Louisiana.

Their recommendations focus on operating Mississippi River sediment diversions and consider the needs of communities, wildlife and fisheries.

Seven LSU faculty served on the 12-member Sediment Diversion Operations Expert Working Group, which put forth these recommendations.

LSU faculty lent their expertise in hydrology, oceanography, estuarine ecology, fisheries, wildlife, biogeochemistry, natural resource economics, law and policy.

“Over the past 50 years, Louisiana has lost 20 percent of its wetlands – an area the size of Delaware. People living near the coast depend on the wetlands for their livelihoods. This land loss also affects resident fish and animals, migrating birds and shrimp, crab and oysters that comprise valuable stock for the U.S. seafood industry,” said John Andrew Nyman, LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources professor and one of the leading scientists in the working group.

“Land loss over the next 50 years will be worse than it needs to be if we don’t manage the river to build new wetlands.”

Key recommendations include:

  • Sediment diversions should be operated on a pulse that mimics the natural flood cycle of the Mississippi River, which includes taking full advantage of winter flood peaks from November through February when the greatest concentration of sediment is available in the river to sustain the coastal wetlands, as well as operating in the spring when sand needed for building land is at its highest;
  • Operations plans should include robust monitoring and flexibility for adjustments based on rapidly changing conditions, such as hurricanes and other events;
  • Diversions should be opened gradually over a 5-10 year period to help develop distributary channel networks, reduce flooding risks, and allow plants, fish, and wildlife species to adjust to new conditions;
  • Local communities, industries and others that will be affected by diversions must be consulted and kept informed throughout all phases of diversion development and operations. Genuine attempts to mitigate socio-economic effects without compromising the effectiveness of the diversion are critical;
  • A clear governance structure should be established to determine roles and responsibilities of all parties and to establish a transparent decision-making process for diversion operations.