NFWF Awards $660 Million For Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, Project Now Fully Funded

In a season where inflation and supply chain issues are disrupting some infrastructure projects, at least one is moving ahead at full speed and full funding: the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion planned for the west bank of the Lower Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, La.

The board of directors of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced March 8 it has awarded $660 million from its Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund (GEBF), an outgrowth of plea agreements by BP and Transocean following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, to Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) for construction of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. In all, more than $2.544 billion from the Deepwater Horizon settlement went to NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, of which $1.272 billion was set aside for projects in Louisiana. GEBF funds in Louisiana were earmarked for barrier island and river diversion projects, according to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“This award of $660 million, the largest single conservation investment in the history of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, will help reverse the historic loss of wetlands along the Louisiana coast,” Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF, said in announcing the funding. “The wetlands in the vicinity of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion were among the most heavily oiled as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and we are pleased to support CPRA’s efforts to continue restoring these vital resources.”

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 people and setting off the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history. The well spewed an estimated 134 million gallons of oil (3.19 million barrels) into the Gulf of Mexico southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Winds and ocean currents carried oil from the well all along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida panhandle, with oil traveling well inland into the Mississippi Sound and Barataria Basin in Louisiana. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the spill caused the deaths of upwards of 105,000 sea birds, 7,600 adult sea turtles and 160,000 juvenile sea turtles, along with a more than 50 percent decrease in the dolphin population within Barataria Bay. More than 8 billion oysters died as a result, according to NOAA. Containment efforts continued into the summer of 2010, with Thad Allen, national incident commander, finally stating the well was “effectively dead” on September 19, 2010.

Just under six years after the rig exploded, BP, Transocean, Halliburton and Anadarko, the owners and operators of the rig, settled with the U.S. government and states along the Gulf Coast for $20.8 billion, which included the $2.544 billion that went to the GEBF. The settlement also divided up funds among Trustee Implementation Groups (TIGs) for each impacted state, with the Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group responsible for allocating $5 billion.

On February 1, that group announced it had approved $2.26 billion in funding for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. That allocation plus the $660 million from the GEBF represent full funding for the project, as well as related mitigation measures.

“Today, we’ve overcome the final hurdle in the funding and approval processes for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion,” CPRA Chairman Chip Kline said in response to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s announcement. “This approval culminates years of hard work and collaboration in which NFWF has been an instrumental partner to CPRA, and we are eager to get shovels in the ground and start construction. We’re grateful for NFWF’s leadership, diligence and for sharing our vision of creating a more sustainable and resilient coastal Louisiana.”

The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, a centerpiece of the state of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, will direct up to 75,000 cubic feet per second of Mississippi River water, sediment and nutrients from the river through a 2-mile-long canal and into the upper reaches of the Barataria Basin. The diversion will be located at River Mile 60.7, near the community of Ironton. CPRA estimates the diversion “has the capability to build and sustain an estimated 13,000 to 26,000 (about 20 to 40 square miles) of wetlands, depending on the rate of future sea level rise.”

In December 2022, the Mississippi Valley Engineer Division and the New Orleans Engineer District granted the conditional permit and Section 408 permission for the project. Just a week later, CPRA announced an agreement to pay Tallgrass, an energy company, about $36 million to acquire close to 500 acres of land for the site of the diversion. Then came the funding announcement from the Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group in February and from NRWF this month.

“The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion will become a monumental project, made possible by unprecedented collaboration across state, federal and nongovernmental organizations,” CPRA Executive Director Bren Haase said. “CPRA is ecstatic to be the stewards of the largest single conservation investment in NFWF’s history. We commend NFWF for recognizing the critical importance of this project and dedicating this funding toward a brighter future for coastal Louisiana.”

CPRA officials hope to break ground on the project this year. Construction will take at least five years.

CPRA is in the midst of negotiations with the project’s “Construction Manager at Risk” contractor, while also completing engineering and design for the project. With permitting and funding in place, according to CPRA, “no action is required of community members who are interested in the project’s mitigation measures and funding opportunities. This information will be distributed through CPRA’s communication channels and through in-person outreach near the project site in the near future.”

The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion is one of two large-scale diversions included in Louisiana’s master plan. The other one, named the Mid-Breton Sediment Diversion, would discharge up to 50,000 cubic feet per second of the Mississippi River eastward into Breton Sound. That diversion would be located at River Mile 68 near the Plaquemines Parish community of Bertrandville.