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Policy Statement 498 - Coastal Wetlands

 
Approved by the Energy, Environment and Water Policy Committee on December 17, 2018
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on April 28, 2019
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 13, 2019

Policy

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports:

  • Reauthorization and continued funding for coastal wetland preservation and restoration projects under the Coastal Wetlands, Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act of 1990 (CWPPRA);
  • Efforts to reduce land loss along coastal wetlands through protection and restoration of the physical processes necessary to sustain these unique ecosystems; 
  • The ongoing effort to fund and implement the beneficial use of dredged material, regional sediment management, and a programmatic authorization of federal civil works projects that allow restoration and preservation work to continue on a long-term basis; and 
  • The principle that coastal and coastal wetland restoration and hurricane protection must be part of an integrated regional watershed and coastal zone management effort, which considers the interrelationships of natural, social and economic systems and includes federal, state, local and private initiatives in a collaborative way. 

Issue

Coastal wetlands are extremely valuable because they decrease flooding, remove pollutants from water, recharge groundwater, store carbon, protect shorelines, provide habitat for wildlife, and serve important recreational and cultural functions.  

While the largest percentage of coastal wetlands in the United States are along the Atlantic and Southeastern coastal states, and coastal wetlands contain vital ecological and economic resources. These resources are threatened. America is losing significant acreage of coastal wetlands. According to the joint U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Report on the Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States - 2004 to 2009 report, between 2004 and 2009 the U.S. lost 360,720 acres of an estimated 41.1 million acres of coastal wetlands in the coastal watersheds. Some losses can be attributed to the filling of coastal wetlands for development. Some losses are occurring due to land subsidence and erosion. For example, Louisiana coastal wetlands have been disappearing through land subsidence and erosion at the alarming rate of 25 to 35 square miles annually. Between 1932 and 2016, over 2,000 square miles were lost, and it is estimated that an additional 500 square miles will be lost by 2050.

Engineers use a variety of techniques to protect, enhance, or restore coastal wetlands. Each restoration project may use one or more techniques to repair delicate coastal wetlands. These techniques include marsh creation and restoration; shoreline protection; hydrologic restoration; beneficial use of dredged material; terracing; sediment trapping; vegetative planting; barrier island restoration; and bank stabilization. 

The enactment of CWPPRA in 1990 initiated efforts to address the losses in Louisiana and created a grant funding source for projects that protect and restore coastal wetlands.  One such project is the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion on the Mississippi River in southern Louisiana which is expected to deliver 32 million cubic yards of sediment over 25 years to rebuild lost coastal wetlands. Since CWPPRA's enactment, over $400 million in grant monies have been awarded. Grant funds are generated through taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat and small engine fuels.

Rationale  

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Wetlands states that U.S. coastal wetlands provide billions of dollars of economic service to people and the environment. That number accounts for cost savings due to flood reduction, recreation, and harvesting natural resources. The economic investments through grants described above indicate there is a significant cost savings in acting now to protect and restore America's coastal wetlands. Restoring coastal wetlands can provide a level of flood attenuation to storm surge and protection from erosive forces, as well as valuable ecological benefits.

ASCE Policy Statement 498
First Approved in 2003


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