Louisiana will get a share of $50 million environmental grant

12 05, 2011 by The Times-Picayune

Louisiana will receive a share of $50 million that will target environmental concerns in 16 priority watersheds in seven major river basins in Gulf Coast states, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Moday.

It’s the first infusion of money aimed at carrying out the wishes of a federal-state task force that sought to address both the long-term effects of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and other environmental concerns along the coast.

A 120-page final version of that group’s report was released on Monday in Houston by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, chairwoman of the task force.

Jackson said pairing the USDA grant announcement with the release of the final report was a response to critics’ concerns that the report’s original draft did not include specific project recommendations.

A larger influx of money awaits if Congress approves the RESTORE Act, which would reserve up to 80 percent of any federal Clean Water Act fines levied against BP and other responsible parties for Gulf Coast restoration, she said. Federal and state officials have estimated that the fines could total as much as $20 billion.

“The message today is that the president and this administration continue to be committed to returning those resources to the Gulf,” Jackson said Monday.

BP already has committed to spending $1 billion to restore natural resources under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which requires those responsible for oil spills to mitigate the damage they caused. State and federal officials have estimated another $5 billion to $10 billion, or more, could be required under that program.

The program announced Monday is aimed at helping farmers and ranchers improve water quality affected by their operations. They will be asked to share the cost of the conservation measures, officials said.

In Louisiana, cost-share money will be provided for two projects in the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary, which includes land between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers.

The Conservation Service will help farmers implement projects that reduce the runoff of sediment and nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer into wetlands.

A similar project would be aimed at improving water quality in the Bayou Grand Marais watershed in Vermilion Parish.

Farmers will be able to sign up for the program later this month, with the selection period running through the spring, officials said.

Florida has the most watersheds participating in the program, including five in the state and two shared with Alabama, which also has a separate watershed participating in the program. Two watersheds are targeted in Mississippi and three in Texas.

The Department of Interior announced Monday that it also is making money available in Louisiana for coastal restoration projects, including about $700,000 to restore 442 acres of canal and spoil banks in the Barataria Unit of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve to emergent wetlands or shallow water habitat.

In the restoration report, the task force adopted four broad goals for its strategy:

  • Restore and conserve habitat.
  • Restore water quality, in particular reducing the excess nutrients flowing down the Mississippi River system that create an annual low-oxygen “dead zone” in the Gulf.
  • Replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources.
  • Enhance community resilience to a variety of threats, including storm risk, sea-level rise, land loss, natural-resource depletion and compromised water quality.

The report is available on the web at www.epa.gov/gulfcoasttaskforce/