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Project Summary / Overview
The Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a partnership between Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, is developing a Gulf Regional Sediment Management Master Plan. This plan will organize and facilitate sediment management policies for conservation and restoration of accretionary processes. The plan will provide steps for states to take to improve sediment management within individual regions and strengthen regional sedimentary processes.
Climate change and its associated changes in hydrology and flow events may affect sediment transport and delivery, which in turn influence aquatic habitats, water resources, and shoreline infrastructure. The Habitat Conservation and Restoration Team (HCRT) was formed to support the Gulf of Mexico Alliance. The HCRT’s mission is to advance conservation and restoration of coastal habitats and ecosystems throughout the Gulf of Mexico and associated watersheds. The Gulf Regional Sediment Management Master Plan (GRSMMP) was selected as a priority for the HCRT to promote habitat restoration and conservation with the effective use of dredged material.
Data suggests that the Gulf of Mexico is losing an average of 60,000 acres of wetland annually; this is partially due to a lack of sediment accretion relative to historic norms. Over 33 major rivers drain into the Gulf of Mexico, inputting roughly 2.4 billion kg of sediment per annum. There are natural sinks of this sediment such as wetlands and offshore coastal canyons but humans are also altering the sediment supply through beach nourishment and dredging.
The intent of the GRSMMP is to provide guidelines for states to better manage their sediment resources, both natural processes and anthropogenic, to accomplish environmental restoration, preservation, and conservation while reducing coastal erosion, coastal storm damage, and associated costs of sediment management.
To develop a regional sediment management plan, the HCRT created work groups to address topical issues and prepare information for inclusion in the master plan. The four working groups focus on sediment resources, ecological considerations, information management, and policies, authorities, and funding.
The sediment resources group endeavored to understand the Gulf sediment system dynamics including: sediment sources, movement, sinks, related watershed and coastal processes, and influences of structures and actions that affect sediment movement, use and loss. To complete this assessment, the Gulf of Mexico was divided into eight morphologic regions of similar littoral characteristics. In general, there was insufficient information to adequately characterize each region, thus key recommendations from the sediment working group are to continue to identify, update, and compile sediment budget data into a common GIS-based data management framework and develop sediment budgets for riverine and estuarine systems.
The ecological considerations group examined the relationship between sediment and ecology including the ecological impacts of anthropogenic activities. The information management group assessed ways to share collected data with multiple levels of government and stakeholder groups. The policies, authorities, and funding group reviewed existing authorities and policies relative to sediment management and assessed ways to leverage the GRSMMP within the existing framework.
Results of each working group are available in the Technical Framework for the Gulf Regional Sediment Master Plan.
Project Outcomes and Conclusions
The Technical Framework for the Gulf Regional Sediment Master Plan does not outline how to implement a regional sediment management plan throughout the Gulf but it does provide a foundation upon which a plan could be based. The sediment inventories, budgets, transport processes, ecological impacts, and assessments of current practices will help to inform future policymakers to formulate guidelines and recommendations on how management and planning practices can be improved on a regional scale. It was envisioned by the HCRT that the GRSMMP would be a “living” document that is updated periodically as new information becomes available and associated policies updated.