Louisiana Coastal Protection Authority Breaks Ground On Sediment Diversion

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and members of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), along with state and federal leaders, broke ground August 10 on the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, a $2.3 billion project located on the west bank of the Mississippi River near the town of Ironton in Plaquemines Parish.

According to CPRA, the project, over the course of 50 years, is expected to build or sustain up to 21 square miles of wetlands in the Barataria Basin, an area degrading due to subsidence, relative sea level rise and salt water intrusion.

“Today will be remembered as a critical turning point for Louisiana’s coast,” Edwards said at the groundbreaking. “The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion will restore and rebuild thousands of acres of coastal land and provide better protection to our most vulnerable communities and critical infrastructure. I’m grateful to CPRA and our federal, state and local partners for their decades-long effort to make this first-of-its-kind project a reality.”

The project will include a gate structure on the river levee, a channel to funnel water and suspended sediment westward toward Barataria Bay and an outfall structure at the opposite end. In low-water conditions, the structure will divert about 5,000 cubic feet per second (cfs.) of the Mississippi River’s flow toward Barataria Bay. In high water, when the flow at Belle Chasse approached 1 million cfs., the flow through the diversion would top out at 75,000 cfs.

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Construction is expected to take more than five years, support 12,400 jobs and have a $1.5 billion economic impact. The project is considered the largest of its kind in U.S. history.

“Today’s groundbreaking marks the dividing line between talking about bold action to save our coast and actually taking it,” said CPRA Chairman Bren Haase. “This groundbreaking is the culmination of decades of hard work and committed partnerships. Federal, state and community leaders have worked together with scientists, area residents, engineers, fishers and many more to bring this unprecedented project from concept to reality. I look forward to seeing the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion restore much of the Barataria Basin and provide a brighter future for our coast and all who depend on it.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved permit applications for the project late last year, with land acquisition and funding realized soon thereafter. Much of the funding for the project arrived from Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlements, with support from the Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group (LA TIG) and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

By 2070, CPRA anticipates the land built by the diversion will account for 25 percent of the remaining wetlands within the Barataria Basin.

Opponents have criticized the project due to the anticipated impact on marine wildlife due to an influx of fresh water. The Corps of Engineers’ environmental impact statement indicated the diversion will result in the “functional extinctions of dolphins” in the area, along with the loss of shrimp and oyster industries on that side of the river. The same study found that the diversion could have permanent impacts on navigation in the Mississippi River due to crosscurrents at the structure.