I am Major General Don T. Riley, Director of Civil Works, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I am pleased to be here today and to have the opportunity to speak to you about the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Louisiana - Ecosystem Restoration Program. My testimony today will provide a brief background and update the Committee on progress made to date by the Corps of Engineers and the State of Louisiana in addressing the serious degradation and loss of this nationally significant ecosystem.
The loss of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands has been ongoing since at least the early 1900s with commensurate deleterious effects on the ecosystem. There have been several separate investigations of the problem and a number of projects constructed over the last 30 or so years that provide localized remedies. For example, since 1990, under the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), Federal agencies and the State of Louisiana have completed projects that we estimate will result in the creation or restoration of a total of 66,000 acres as well as enhancing 321,000 acres of coastal wetlands. Under this Act, the principal Federal wetlands agencies and the State use a competitive process for allocating funds to potential wetlands restoration projects. They select the best individual projects on the merits, but lacked an overall strategy to identify integrated groups of projects that could yield greater environmental benefits by acting in concert on a watershed basis. It has become apparent that a more systematic approach can be more effective in restoring natural processes. In recognition of this, in 1998 the CWPPRA Task Force developed “Coast 2050: Toward a Sustainable Coastal Louisiana” which detailed a set of strategies for addressing the needs of this complex ecosystem more holistically.
In March 2002, Louisiana and the Corps jointly decided to undertake development of a comprehensive plan, and signed an amendment to the original Barataria Basin study cost sharing agreement to initiate a broader ecosystem restoration study. Building on the Coast 2050 plan, the LCA Study team produced an internal, preliminary draft report in October 2003. Guidance from the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) and in the President’s fiscal year 2005 Budget identified the need to refocus this study’s effort to address the most critical ecological needs of the Coastal Area over the next ten or so years. The Corps and the State have worked together to develop a restoration program consistent with this guidance. Our recent study is a multi-agency achievement reflecting the partnership of both the Corps of Engineers and the State of Louisiana through its Department of Natural Resources.
Based upon data and lessons learned from similar projects initiated in past years, the report proposes to address ecological needs through a series of projects targeted to the parts of the ecosystem that require the most immediate attention. Further detailed analysis and site specific design for these projects will ensure that the selected projects are highly cost-effective and represent the best way to use the available funds. In short, we will focus our efforts on the parts of the ecosystem that require the most immediate attention, and will address these needs through features that provide the highest return in net environmental and economic benefits per dollar of cost. The report also calls for studies of potentially promising, long-term ecosystem restoration concepts, with the objective of determining whether they would provide a highly cost-effective way to create coastal wetlands. In addition, the report underscores the need to address the key scientific uncertainties and engineering challenges associated with coastal restoration, and to otherwise lay the groundwork to improve the cost-effectiveness and likelihood of success of restoration efforts undertaken during, and beyond, the immediate 10-year period of the current plan.
Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and LTG Carl A. Strock, Chief of Engineers, signed a partnership agreement on Monday, Jan. 31, 2005, dedicating their “combined efforts towards a common goal of reversing the current trend of degradation of Louisiana’s coastal ecosystem.” In addition, LTG Strock signed his Chief of Engineer’s Report, on the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Study. The Chief’s approval reflects his commitment to an integrated approach, which targets the available resources in highly cost-effective ways to meet the most immediate ecological needs. This approach builds upon, and will advance, the ongoing restoration effort that is already underway. It is the next logical step in this effort.
As noted in LTG Strock’s Chief’s Report, the challenge of creating a program that can rapidly put structures in place means that we cannot simply proceed with business as usual. This of course presents a number of policy issues about how the LCA Program is to be structured and funded. Those policy issues are beyond the purview of the Corps of Engineers and must be decided by Congress and by the Administration. I know, however, from their interest and participation in our work so far that the Administration strongly supports the effort to help protect and rebuild this ecosystem, and recognizes the urgency of addressing this challenge.
In accordance with guidance from the Secretary of the Army and consistent with the Chief of Engineers Report, we look forward to working with the State of Louisiana to develop streamlined approaches and efficient ways to effectively address these issues in the most cost-effective and timely manner. We are committed to putting a program in place that will enable the State and the Nation to make significant progress towards protecting and rebuilding this nationally significant coastal ecosystem.
This concludes my statement. Again, I appreciate the opportunity to testify today. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.