Congressional water bill could speed Louisiana levee, water projects

Congressional water bill could speed Louisiana levee, water projects

Congressional water bill could speed Louisiana levee, water projects

This map outlines the details of the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain hurricane risk reduction project approved by Congress in 2016. An bill introduced in the Senate on Monday (May 7) would expedite completion of the project, though no money has yet been appropriated. (

A long list of major Louisiana levee, coastal restoration and navigation projects costing billions of dollars that have been idled by a lack of federal funding could be inched forward by a major water resources bill introduced in Congress this week.

The America’s Water Infrastructure Act, the name given to this congressional session’s version of the Water Resources Development Act, includes measures that authorize projects or studies, or directs the Army Corps of Engineers to speed work on projects that have already been authorized.

But the legislation is not an appropriations bill that funds the projects. Funding must still be approved by the Donald Trump administration using money already contained in its budget or must be included in future appropriations measures approved by Congress.

The water bill is one of the major vehicles for projects that Congress wants to be included in Trump’s proposed national infrastructure investment program. And providing the corps with instructions in this bill could result in requests by the corps to administration officials to place money in the present or next federal budget, or can result in speeding completion of studies required for projects to move forward.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., was responsible for adding the Louisiana projects to the bill, and they’re also supported by U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.

Cassidy’s list of projects include authorization of a long-awaited feasibility study for a proposed North Shore flood risk reduction project in St. Tammany Parish. The 2016 version of the water bill authorized a study to determine the feasibility of carrying out projects described in the St. Tammany Parish Comprehensive Coastal Master Plan for flood control, shoreline protection, and ecosystem restoration in St. Tammany, but the study was never funded.

The state’s Master Plan for hurricane protection and coastal restoration includes proposals for both a ring levee system to protect Slidell and a so-called nonstructural risk reduction project that would include floodproofing some businesses and elevating or relocating homes in floodprone areas.

The parish also has proposed a variety of projects to reduce flood risk through improvements in drainage.

The new legislation also requires expedited review or "expedited completion" by the corps of several major projects in Louisiana, which would again move them closer to inclusion in an upcoming budget.

Of interest to the New Orleans area is the expedited completion requirement for the proposed $744 million West Shore Lake Pontchartrain hurricane levee, which would protect parts of St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes from storm surges caused by a hurricane with a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year, a so-called 100-year storm.

The project was authorized in 2016, but no money has been included in the administration budget to begin design or construction of the levee or for so-called "nonstructural features," floodproofing some businesses and either raising or relocating homes that would be in danger of flooding and would not be protected by the proposed levee.

In April, state officials said they hoped to use part of $1.2 billion in federal Community Development Block Grant money that the state hopes to receive through a separate supplemental appropriation linked to hurricanes and flood events in 2016 and 2017 to begin construction, but the federal Housing and Urban Development department has not yet announced whether that money will go to Louisiana, or whether part of it can be used on the new levee project.

A similar order in the water resources bill to speed construction applies to the proposed Morganza to the Gulf hurricane levee that would protect Houma and nearby communities from hurricane storm surges caused by a 100-year storm. The 98-mile, $11 billion levee has been under construction for more than a decade, using only state and local tax dollars, and needs another $8.3 billion to be completed. State officials hope to use part of the block grant money for that project, too.

Also recommended for expedited completion is the $1.5 billion Southwest Coastal Louisiana project, which includes nonstructural hurricane risk reduction — floodproofing buildings and elevating or relocating residences at risk of flooding — and environmental restoration projects for Calcasieu, Cameron and Vermilion parishes. This project also was authorized by Congress in 2016.

The "Louisiana Coastal Area" project, a combination of six major restoration projects originally authorized by Congress in 2007, also is listed for expedited completion. This year’s legislation points to language included in the 2014 water resources bill that recommended the projects receive about $1 billion in federal money, to be matched by $601 million in state money.

Several of the projects are either already under way with earlier appropriations under LCA or other federal or state programs, or are listed in the state’s coastal Master Plan for future action.

The individual projects listed in a 2010 corps chief of engineers report recommending the LCA program include:

Amite River Diversion Canal Modification, which would increase freshwater entering the Maurepas Swamp’s weakened cypress/tupelo forest. Convey Atchafalaya River Water to Northern Terrebonne Marshes and Multipurpose Operation of the Houma Navigation Canal Lock, both projects aimed at improving rapidly eroding wetlands in the Terrebonne Basin. Small Diversion at Convent/Blind River, which would direct freshwater into the Maurepas Swamp. Terrebonne Basin Barrier Shoreline Restoration, including the Isles Dernieres and the Timbalier Islands. Medium Diversion at White Ditch, would direct sediment and freshwater from the Mississippi into Breton Sound near Phoenix, in Plaquemines Parish.

A separate provision calls for speeding completion of the Barataria Basin Barrier portion of the LCA program, which included the Caminada Headland beach and back barrier wetlands in Lafourche Parish and Shell Island. Both of those areas have been the subject of several improvement projects using money from BP directly or as part of oil spill settlements, or other federal restoration programs.

The bill also calls for speeding a study of navigation and channel deepening needs for Baptiste Collette Bayou, which extends east from the lower Mississippi River into Breton Sound through Plaquemines Parish.

The bill also instructs the corps to complete a report on navigation and hurricane and storm damage reduction for Houma that was originally authorized by the 2007 water resources bill.

Also included was a requirement to complete a study designed to set up a water quality monitoring program and eight conservation habitat areas on the lower Mississippi River in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.

It also requires completing a study of a project for navigation on the Lower Little River, part of the Ouachita-Black Rivers navigation project, in Arkansas and Louisiana.

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Lewis Rice

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