‘Adaptive management’ needed for coastal restoration projects

As Louisiana moves forward with projects included in the coastal restoration and protection master plan, not everything is going to have the predicted results or work as well as was intended, speakers said Thursday at a panel put together by a not-for-profit research institute.

Those attending the panel discussion in Baton Rouge, put together by the Water Institute of the Gulf, were told that science research and monitoring of projects will help inform how the projects might need to be modified to obtain better results — a process known as adaptive management.

Speakers on the panel said there will always be uncertainties when building a large ecosystem project like coastal restoration and protection in Louisiana.

Denise Reed, chief scientist with The Water Institute of the Gulf, said the state’s master plan looks 50 years into the future. She said much can change in that span of time, from the amount of water available in the Mississippi River to sea level rises.

“Adaptive management is pretty critical in this system,” Reed said.

Moreover, she said, there is uncertainty of how the environment will respond to projects such as marsh creation or the diversions of freshwater and sediment from the Mississippi River, she said.

“As we put projects on the ground, they may not play out as we thought they’d play out,” Reed said.

In addition, even if a project is working well, there could be additional research or new techniques that get developed in the future that could improve the project’s efficiency, she said.

A plan that outlines how adaptive management will be used in Louisiana’s effort is needed in preparing to put the state’s coastal master plan into action, speakers said.

Members of the panel have experience with ecosystems around the country, from Everglades National Park to the Columbia River basin in the Northwest, and will help draft a framework for how adaptive management will be done in Louisiana.

The information provided by the panel will be turned over to The Water Institute of the Gulf to put together a draft framework and will then go to state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to be fleshed out with details as the state move forward to work on the 2017 update to the coastal master plan.

There are challenges to making the adaptive management process work, panel members said.

Mike Donahue, a panel member who works for URS Corporation, said those challenges include reaching consensus on the science that drives decisions on whether a project or policies and procedures need to be changed. Another challenge, he said, is obtaining funding for the monitoring needed for adaptive management to tell how a project is doing, he said.

“Monitoring and adaptive management are typically afterthoughts in the funding process,” Donahue said.

Natalie Peyronnin, senior scientist with the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said all of the panel’s comments will be taken into consideration to develop the framework for how Louisiana will proceed with using adaptive management in the coastal restoration and protection program.