Economic Assessments of Coastal Restoration in Louisiana

Coastal erosion processes are widely documented in Louisiana, where an estimated 25-35 square miles of marsh are lost annually due primarily to hydrologic modification, nutrient /sediment starvation, and subsidence. The magnitude of this problem is manifest by an increasing body of scientific literature and more than $1 billion in projects expenditures since 1990. With recent federal authorizations, a minimum of $5 billion in additional coastal restoration spending is expected for the coming decade. Though most of this activity is predicated on economic justifications, socioeconomic assessments and guidance have been sorely lacking.  The Center for National Resource Economics & Policy’s (CNREP) Economic Assessments of Coastal Restoration in Louisiana initiative seeks to address these problems.

The overall scope of the initiative is to improve the efficiency through which limited restoration funding is applied towards ecosystem restoration and management initiatives. The specific objectives of individual projects under this initiative vary. Researchers utilize such research methods as benefit-cost analyses, ecosystem service valuations and econometric analyses in these projects.

CNREP works with many partners to design and implement their Economic Assessments of Coastal Restoration in Louisiana.  Much of the research under this initiative focuses on projects being carried out under the Coastal Wetland Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA); therefore, CNREP cooperators work closely with these organizations. The Louisiana Sea Grant Marine Extension Project is a vital partner for communicating CNREP’s research with stakeholders and the general public. Other partners include the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S .Geological Survey’s National Wetland Research Center.

Initial assessments made under this initiative examined the various factors that drive project selection under the CWPPRA program. Results indicated that participating federal agencies had begun to abandon traditional economic metrics (e.g. cost-efficacy) in favor of more subjective, political criteria for project selection. The net result of this trend was an increasing loss of program efficiency in the allocation of nearly $100 million annually since 1997. Extension of these findings during the years 2004-2007 eventually prompted an internal re-evaluation of the program’s restoration expenditures. Beginning in 2008, the efficiency of project selection under CWPPRA began to greatly improve, with more than $130 million in state and federal restoration funds being redirected to more cost-effective projects. More recently between 2008 and 2011, CNREP worked with CPRA to develop a more refined decision-support model to examine the comparative efficiency of coastal land-building methods. With the first phase of this research now completed, results are being extended to state and federal restoration agencies in an attempt to help guide the allocation of any additional funding that might be forthcoming through the RESTORE Act.

CNREP presents its research findings through participation in state and regional forums, workshops and symposia. When communicating with the public, CNREP utilizes mass media outlets, printed and electronic fact sheets, workshops with stakeholders, dynamic visualization, and social media.  All research and outreach content is archived on the websites of CNREP or its partners.