Three design-and-engineering teams unveiled their concepts for saving the lower Mississippi River Delta over the next 100 years at an Aug. 20 press conference in New Orleans.
The three interdisciplinary teams were led by Baird & Associates, Moffat & Nichol and Studio Misi-Ziibi. The teams were the winners of an international design competition, called “Changing Course,” whose challenge was to rebuild and protect the imperiled Louisiana coast, primarily south of New Orleans.
Over the past century, nearly 1,900 sq miles of Louisiana coastal wetlands have dwindled away, and, according to competition leadership team members, substantial chunks of land continue to disappear under the Gulf of Mexico’s advancing tides at such a rate that, by 2100, the state’s protective coast will be gone.
Steve Cochran, associate vice president of ecosystems at the Environmental Defense Fund and part of the leadership team behind the competition, says the designs and ideas will be used to help inform the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority (CPRA) as they develop, in 2017, their next state master plan for coastal restoration and flood control.
The idea behind the competition was to bring some private-sector expertise to develop new ideas and approaches that would look more holistically at the coastal restoration and redevelopment, Cochran says.
Traditionally, in Louisiana, the Corps of Engineers has focused on flood control and navigation; the state, through CPRA, has focused on coastal restoration.
But with the passage of the 2007 Water Resources Development Act, some restoration has come under the Corps’ jurisdiction. “At the heart of this competition, really, was the holistic integration of navigation, restoration and flood control in ways that have never been done before,” Cochran says.
CPRA and the Corps have committed to working with the teams. Kyle Graham, CPRA’s executive director, says, “Because of the quality of the work, the state has committed to bringing the technical work from 'Changing Course' into its process of analyzing the management scheme for the lower Mississippi River.”
Although the proposals differed in their approaches, they all agreed on three major themes as critical to sustaining the Mississippi River Delta into the next century: maximizing the reconnection of the Mississippi River to its wetlands, using the natural forces of the Mississippi River; maximizing the integration of navigation, flood control and restoration, including consideration of ideas for a better and more sustainable navigation channel; and consideration of a gradual transition over time of industry and communities into more protected and resilient areas.
They also all acknowledged that the delta will be smaller 100 years from now.
Teams were selected for the two-phase competition through an initial request for qualifications, in 2013, and a subsequent request-for-proposals stage.
Eight short-listed teams were invited to meet with the competition’s advisory team members and stakeholders in New Orleans and submit proposals.
Three selected teams were commissioned to spend five months creating a framework design, which included river management proposals to maximize effective use of sediments for protection and restoration of the delta while also addressing the needs of the region's navigation and other industries.
“We ultimately picked the three all as winners. We thought that the quality of work was such that [they all] were worthy of recognition. … We said that we should be looking at all of these ideas, not just one” over the next several decades, Cochran says.
Next steps for the winning teams include working with the Corps of Engineers and the state to test the feasibility of the proposed ideas, says Rob Nairn, director at Baird & Associates.
Financial support for the program came from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Blue Moon Fund, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Shell, the Kresge Foundation, the Selley Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation; leadership support was provided by the Van Alen Institute, which has played a leadership role in the "Rebuild by Design" competition, sponsored by President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Task Force.
Consulting engineering firm BuroHappold provided technical support.