The first years of the twenty-first century witnessed increasing concern about the sustainability of deltaic environments in the United States and internationally, which included escalating calls for research, restoration, and improved water and environmental management (Day et al., 2007; Foufoula-Georgiou et al., 2011; Galloway, et al., 2009; Giosan and Bhattacharya, 2005; Paola et al., 2011; Syvitski, 2009; Vörösmarty et al., 2009). Louisiana research scientists and universities have pursued these issues for decades, internationally as well as in the Mississippi, as have other major deltaic research institutions around the world, particularly in the Netherlands. International scientific communities have organized deltaic research consortia, including the International Geosphere Biosphere Program (IGBP); Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone (LOICZ) program (Overeem and Syvitski, 2009); the Delta Alliance; the Connecting Delta Cities program; DeltaNet; ESPA Deltas; and the USGS DRAGON program (2013). Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; tropical cyclones Aila, Nargis, and Sidr; and tsunami-driven coastal flooding have catalyzed regional, national, and international inquiry. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico compounded these hazards and required massive cleanup and restoration programs. Chapter 2 addresses this array of problems and challenges.
In the wake of these events, the Water Institute of the Gulf (referred to as the Water Institute in this report) was incorporated in 2011 and began its operations in 2012. Located in Baton Rouge, the Water Institute was established as an independent scientific advisory body. Its establishment follows a precedent set by the Deltares Research Institute in Delft, Neth-
erlands. Initial financial support was provided through a grant from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and contracts with the State of Louisiana. The mission of the Water Institute is described as follows:
… provide the state of Louisiana with a central point of science and engineering capacity, one that can help the state build better projects more quickly. By serving as a vehicle for collaboration among the best scientists and engineers in the world, The Water Institute will drive innovation in coastal restoration and hurricane protection, building world class expertise in these areas. This expanded capacity will not just inform federal and state efforts in Louisiana, it will eventually create a center of science and engineering excellence that can serve communities throughout the Gulf Coast and beyond.
(The Water Institute, 2013a)
The Water Institute’s initial scope of work is largely defined by and intended to serve the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). Its early studies include critical review and feedback of the first phase of proposed diversion for marsh restoration projects (Reed, 2013). In its initial year of operations, the Water Institute established four main scientific branches and hired senior scientists for each of these programmatic branches (The Water Institute, 2013b). The Water Institute’s next round of staffing will focus on a cadre of junior research scientists capable of serving as co-principal investigators and project managers.
This report offers advice to the Water Institute that it might use as part of its strategic planning process. The NRC and the Water Institute agreed upon a scope of work that focuses on strategic research to support integrated water resources management in the lower Mississippi River delta and includes international comparative assessments (Box 1-1). This report promotes a human and environmental systems approach to scientific research that supports integrated water and environmental resources management in the lower Mississippi River and delta (Figure 1-1), and offers ideas regarding comparative assessments with other, relevant deltaic regions around the world (Figure 1-2).
This report’s statement of task requests the NRC committee to offer advice for setting research priorities to support integrated water resources management in lower river and deltaic systems. The report thus has a strong science research program emphasis. Much of the advice herein is based upon the committee’s collective expert judgment, and not necessarily detailed review of specific bodies of science, or testing of hypotheses. Research directions thus are presented in the form of promising alternatives and opportunities open to the Water Institute, as opposed to conclusive or definitive science-based recommendations and organizational imperatives.
Statement of Task
An ad hoc committee of the National Research Council (NRC) will provide independent advice on strategic research to support integrated water resources management to the Water Institute of the Gulf—a nonprofit, independent research organization located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Institute’s focus is on the lower Mississippi River and its delta and coastal region, but it also will draw upon ideas, technologies, and solutions from around the world in addressing local problems, and to export knowledge to address water management issues in deltaic and coastal systems globally. The Institute plans to conduct integrated research that explores linkages among natural science, engineering, and the dynamics of social and economic systems that underpin water management decisions. The Institute considers Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) to reflect these multidisciplinary factors.
In advising the Institute, the NRC committee will consider several issues that fall into three topical areas: (1) common problems and challenges, (2) strategic research, and (3) transferring and applying knowledge.
Common Problems and Challenges
• Discuss other prominent large deltaic and coastal systems focusing on why and how they may be analogous to and relevant to scientific issues and management decisions in the lower Mississippi River and delta system.
• Identify key challenges for IWRM in large deltaic systems in general, and types of research that can contribute to meeting these challenges.
• Discuss prominent lessons and promising IWRM practices from large river delta systems, including the lower Mississippi River, that can be applied broadly.
Strategic Research for IWRM
• Identify unmet research needs in the lower Mississippi River and its delta complex, and in large river/delta/coastal areas outside North America, for which opportunities exist for research to gain understanding necessary to further IWRM.
• Discuss promising approaches, including organizational structures and related processes, for identifying and integrating relevant multidisciplinary knowledge and skills into management decisions for large deltaic regions.
Transferring and Applying Knowledge
• How can the Institute utilize knowledge gained from the lower Mississippi River and delta system in developing a research program to support water management decisions in other large river/delta complexes?
This report does not identify priorities among these many opportunities, but the final chapter provides comments regarding a process for prioritization.
The concept of “integrated water resources management” (IWRM) features prominently in this report’s statement of task, and has been an important initial theme for the Water Institute. Although there is a vast literature on this subject, there is no single definition of the concept, or commonly idealized model of its implementation. In general, however, it describes a systematic approach to managing water and related environmental resources, which considers natural systems, socioeconomic conditions, and institutions and governance structures.
Integrated water management has existed in various forms for many decades, describing aspects of water management programs and activities around the world. The actual practices of integrated water management have ancient origins, as early societies sought to attain good quality water supplies in sufficient quantity, safety from water-related hazards, and low cost waste disposal (Angelakis et al., 2012; Mithen, 2012; Tvedt, 2006-2013). Modern industrialization in both rural and urbanizing regions brought advances in water development, often of a specialized yet fragmented nature, which led to calls in many periods for more integrated water management. Dating from at least the turn of the last century, integrated water management has referred to progressively more comprehensive approaches to solving problems involving water.
In the United States, Progressive Era watershed and river basin studies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries marked the advent of integrated planning (Wescoat, 2000). The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and its multiple missions of flood control, navigation, power generation and rural electrification, soil conservation, and community planning represented a milestone and major advance in integrated water resources management. In its early river basin manifestations by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others, integrated water resources management had a strong engineering dimension, which was reflected in river systems that featured large-scale engineering works with multiple objectives (White, 1957), principally for reducing flood peaks, storing water, and generating hydroelectric power. Smaller reservoirs, along with soil and water conservation planning, were emphasized at the watershed scale. Over time, there has been a broadening of the concept at both of these scales to include ecological change, social and economic systems, as well as institutions and policies for water governance. Mitchell (1990) has compiled diverse examples of integrated
water management in various regions of the world that provide further background.
The late geographer Gilbert F. White reflected on the 50-year record of integrated water management, citing the need to (1) continue to expand the range of choice among management measures; (2) deepen the quality of criteria to evaluate those management measures; and (3) conduct rigorous post audits of completed projects to determine what has actually happened, as compared with what was planned (White, 1998). In more recent years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has developed formal curricula for IWRM to address these issues, underscoring that IWRM is (1) a process, not a goal, (2) a process directed toward multiple goals, and (3) an incremental rather than comprehensive process (Cardwell et al., 2006). The Corps emphasizes integration of objectives, institutions, and different spatial and temporal scales (ibid.). Another recent study has compared coastal zone management with IWRM (Thompson, 2012). These emphases go beyond earlier watershed and river basin frameworks for integrated management.
In international practice, by comparison, IWRM has a different history, meaning, and record. Biswas (2008) dates international usage of the IWRM concept at least back to the Mar del Plata water conference of 1977. IWRM was adopted as a planning approach by the Global Water Partnership (2000, p. 22), which formally defined it as “a process which promotes the co-ordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximize the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.” After two decades of experimentation, a significant body of criticism has developed which asserts that IWRM is too comprehensive, rarely implemented, and insufficiently attentive to the political dimensions of water management (Beveridge and Monsees, 2012; Biswas, 2008; Mollinga et al., 2006; Orlove and Caton, 2010).
However, others rebut some of these criticisms with examples of implementation in Canada (Mitchell, 2006), a mix of U.S. and international projects and practices (Lenton and Muller, 2009; and a recent country survey by U.N. Water, 2012). Some European nations, including the Netherlands, employ IWRM frameworks for analysis and planning. Clearly, the “IWRM” concept has a wide range of region-specific definitions, interpretations, and manifestations.
In light of these debates about IWRM, per se, this report chose to move away from the acronym and acrimony, and focus on IWRM selectively where it has important insights to offer. This report otherwise uses the phrase “integrated water and environmental management” in lower case, as ordinary language for approaches that strive to link social, environmental, and institutional processes through a systems approach. This general
concept of integrated water and environmental management is briefly introduced below, and elaborated upon in Chapter 4.
In the United States, numerous water management entities and stakeholder groups periodically convene discussions among water users to share their respective concerns and consider cross-sector relations, as well as possible compromises and operational changes. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers routinely seeks to integrate and balance multiple water sectors in the operations of its hundreds of dams across the United States. Along the Missouri River, for example, the Corps is authorized to operate its mainstem reservoirs to serve flood control, irrigation, municipal and industrial water supply, navigation, and hydroelectric power generation, and to provide benefits to recreation, fish, and wildlife (see NRC, 2002).
Along the Colorado River in the arid southwestern United States, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operates its large storage dams—Glen Canyon and Hoover dams—to achieve and balance goals and purposes of hydroelectric power generation, water delivery obligations, tribal trust duties, and ecological values including endangered species protection, recreation, and navigation.
Other examples across the nation abound. The Ohio River Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) is an interstate body with water quality responsibilities along the Ohio River, and the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association (UMRBA) is a five-state entity that convenes discussions and sponsors studies of numerous water-related issues of broad importance to many users in the upper Mississippi River basin. The Delaware River basin has been managed by a unique federal-state river basin commission since 1961 to promote regional economic development, protect the environment, and improve community quality of life. The commission has undertaken a goal-based watershed management approach, in which alternative water uses and discharges are assessed in terms of both socioeconomic and environmental impacts (Collier, 2004).
There also are groups that convene a wide array of stakeholders to facilitate discussion and promote collaboration. Examples include the Adaptive Management Work Group in the Colorado River Basin, the Missouri River Recovery and Implementation Committee for the Missouri River, and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) stakeholders group. Each of these entities includes dozens of different stakeholders to better integrate multiple perspectives into decision making. There are less formal entities that convene occasional meetings of different state agencies, or user groups, to facilitate communications. These include the Colorado River Water Users Association, and the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee.
U.S. federal and state water managers aim to improve integration of water and environmental decisions across water sectors, and work closely with scientific research agencies, and others, to identify and use informa-
tion regarding water resources conditions and trends. Examples of these scientific agencies are, at the federal level, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, and at the state level, state natural resources agencies. In some instances, multiple-stakeholder programs have been established by federal and state governments. One example is the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (GCMRC), a Department of the Interior scientific body in Flagstaff, Arizona, that works collaboratively with the Adaptive Management Work Group in several ecosystem monitoring programs, including habitat conditions for federally listed species. On the upper Mississippi River, UMRBA reports on water quality and environmental conditions are informed via input from many federal agencies (e.g., Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center; U.S. Geological Survey), and state natural resource agencies from Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Scientific information that is used within settings of shared water resources systems across the United States takes many forms and includes water quality monitoring data, assessments of endangered species and habitat needs, decision support systems (DSS) that model reservoir operations and alternative management regimes, and activities such as “Shared Vision” modeling, which involves stakeholders in the formulation and analysis of management alternatives. Scientific information and research are standard components and input to many collaborative efforts in the United States aimed at better integration across multiple water users.
A major theme of this report is ways in which scientific research can provide information to more systematically integrate water and environmental management across various sectors. In the lower Mississippi River and delta region, the primary water sectors include navigation, flood mitigation, hurricane protection, water supply, fisheries, and ecosystems management. The report identifies opportunities to obtain better information on natural, social, economic, and governance dimensions of water and related resources, their relations and connections, and shows how that information can be used in management decisions. It builds on extensive work and applications in integrated water resources management, and considers the concept in a broad sense to include natural systems, social and economic processes, and institutions and policies for water governance. It employs the phrase “integrated water and environmental management” to refer to interdisciplinary, science-based efforts at better cross-sector integration.
There is no single definition of the lower Mississippi River and its delta. In the largest sense, the lower Mississippi River extends as far north as Cairo, Illinois, and the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, which at one time was coincident with the Corps of Engineers’ (former)
Lower Mississippi Valley Division. Alternatively, the lower Mississippi extends northward roughly to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and includes portions of the Corps’ New Orleans and Vicksburg district offices. At the narrowest end of the spectrum, some inventories limit the delta to the current “bird’s foot” distributary in the northern Gulf of Mexico. This report adopts a working definition in between these extremes that includes the apex and northernmost point of the Mississippi River delta at the Old River Control Structure, including the Atchafalaya River valley and part of the Chenier plain to the southwest and south, and the margin of the southern coastal plain to the southeast.
Within this context, this report concentrates on the lower Mississippi River deltaic and coastal areas. More complete integration of lower river and delta will require some attention to the division of Mississippi River flows at the Old River control structure, which is an important feature in the Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi River and Tributary (MR & T) project water control infrastructure (see Figure 1-3; see p. 39 for further discussion of the MR & T project).
Understanding water and environmental issues in the Mississippi River delta requires consideration of time scales associated with major agents of change. Geological and evolutionary timescales of tens of thousands of years drive some processes, which set the stage for conditions largely beyond human control. Other agents of change work on diurnal or shorter scales, where human interventions can have effects (both positive and negative). Integrated water and environmental management must draw upon this full range of environmental timescales and translate them into meaningful interpretations for human time scales, which themselves are a matter for focused deliberation. The question of time-scales is critical for future economic and ecological development of the Mississippi delta. Infrastructure, land use, and management decisions can have implications for decades to centuries. The human dimensions of time scales are encapsulated in the issue of floodplain development. Some floodplain residents, for example, may be comfortable living in a 100-year flood plain, as a 1 percent per annum risk of flood may seem acceptable. Others may have little economic choice. It is not widely appreciated that the 100-year flood plain has an approximately 26 percent chance of flooding during a typical 30-year home mortgage. Louisiana has one of the highest concentrations of multigenerational populations in the United States, so decisions made based on short-term considerations can have reverberations through generations of a family.
For science-policy relevance, this report adopts the three rough time scales of the near term, medium term, and longer term. The near term refers to the interannual time scale of one to five years. The medium time scale refers to five to twenty years, that is, the interval between master plans into the foreseeable planning future. The longer time scale refers to the multi-decadal periods of human generations, such as 100- to 500-year flood protection. As an early point of comparison, the Dutch coastal protection system has a history of approximately 1,000 years, and it plans for 1 in 10,000 year extreme events (Deltacommissie, 2008; Verduijn et al., 2012).1
In addressing the points and questions identified in the statement of task, this report aims to promote systematic, science-based management of water and related resources across multiple sectors. This systems-level per-
1 Such discussions of flood and storm return intervals assume that frequencies and magnitudes do not change due to nonstationary climate processes. Such assumptions, however, fall under careful scrutiny under paradigms of nonstationarity (see Milly et al., 2008).
spective is consistent with the notion of integrated water management that is an important theme in the Water Institute’s developing research program.
Another prominent theme in this report’s statement of task is comparisons, commonalities, and knowledge transfers between the lower Mississippi River delta and other lower river and deltaic regions around the world. Comparative assessments between the lower Mississippi River and other lower river regions present both challenges and opportunities. At one level, the history, hydrology, engineering structures, and other features of the lower Mississippi River region are unique. At the same time, there are common features and management challenges in many lower river/delta systems, including sediment management, salinity intrusion, floods, and other environmental hazards. These commonalities present opportunities to share experiences and expertise, and to learn from management actions in other regions. This report explores in greater detail the prospects for comparison and knowledge transfer between the lower Mississippi River and other deltas, and offers some thoughts on structuring comparative assessments.
The report is divided into six chapters. Chapter 2, “Lower River and Deltaic Systems:Common Problems and Challenges” corresponds with the first section in the statement of task (Common Problems and Challenges). Chapters 3 through 5 address the points and questions in the statement of task’s second main section (Strategic Research for IWRM). Chapter 6, “Comparative International Deltaic Research: Transferring and Applying Knowledge” addresses the points in the statement of task’s third major section.
In addition to the chapters on strategic scientific research, science-policy research, research coordination and organization, and transfer and application of research results (Chapters 3-6), three other themes are crosscutting through the report: (1) the systems approach to water and environmental research in the lower Mississippi River and delta; (2) the prominence of commercial activities broadly defined—from fisheries to petrochemical exploration and refining, from commercial navigation to tourism—and the importance of engaging these stakeholders in water and environmental deliberation; and (3) comparisons and contrasts with other lower river and delta systems around the world.
Like most National Research Council reports, this report’s intended audience is broad. In addition to the Water Institute, the report likely will be of interest to the State of Louisiana and especially its Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, author of Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan (Master Plan). Stakeholders and industries in the region also may find the report of interest. These groups include petrochemical development industries, commercial navigation, and fisheries. Nongovernmental organizations with missions related to ecosystem protection and restoration also should find it of interest, as may local communities in the lower Mississippi
River delta and across coastal Louisiana. Federal agencies with water and environmental management, and scientific, missions also should find it of interest. These agencies include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Geological Survey. International water researchers and organizations such as the International Geosphere Biosphere Project Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone (LOICZ), Delta Alliance, and Connecting Delta Cities networks, from which the report has benefited, also may find it useful.
This report was produced on a timeline of roughly six months from the committee’s first meeting to the report’s issue following external peer review. The committee held its first meeting in Baton Rouge in April 2013, and its second meeting in Washington in early June 2013. The committee’s April 2013 meeting featured numerous guest speakers; the committee’s June 2013 meeting was held mainly in closed session during which the committee worked on its draft report (a full list of invited speakers at these two meetings is presented in Appendix A).