The original Deepwater Horizon fire (Pic by Deepwater Horizon Response, via Flickr)

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force today released its final strategy for long-term ecosystem restoration for the region most affected by the 2009 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, which sent more than 20 million gallons of oil into the gulf. The announcement follows extensive feedback from citizens throughout the region, and was developed following more than 40 public meetings.

The Task Force, which was established by an executive order from President Obama, is made up of representatives from the five gulf states and 11 federal agencies.

The Task Force will now begin implementing the strategy with the announcement of several new initiatives, including $50 million in assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to help agricultural producers in seven Gulf Coast river basins improve water quality, increase water conservation and enhance wildlife habitat.

According to a press release, the USDA’s multi-year environmental restoration effort, also known as the Gulf of Mexico Initiative, “represents a 1,100% increase in financial assistance for Gulf priority watersheds.”

The Task Force has also begun “reviewing existing policy, program and regulatory issues that are slowing down restoration progress, particularly in the habitat restoration area,” sand will “continue to explore innovative ways to implement restoration, measure success and support the restoration with science,” according to a release.

The Task Force will also open a local office, headed by Task Force Executive Director John Hankinson, later this month.

The key tenets of the newly released strategy are:

1) Stopping the Loss of Critical Wetlands, Sand Barriers and Beaches
The strategy recommends placing ecosystem restoration on an equal footing with historic uses such as navigation and flood damage reduction by approaching water resource management decisions in a far more comprehensive manner that will bypass harm to wetlands, barrier islands and beaches. The strategy also recommends implementation of several congressionally authorized projects in the Gulf that are intended to reverse the trend of wetlands loss.

2) Reducing the Flow of Excess Nutrients into the Gulf
The strategy calls for working in the Gulf and upstream in the Mississippi watershed to reduce the flow of excess nutrients into the Gulf by supporting state nutrient reduction frameworks, new nutrient reduction approaches, and targeted watershed work to reduce agricultural and urban sources of excess nutrients.

3) Enhancing Resiliency among Coastal Communities
The strategy calls for enhancing the quality of life of Gulf residents by working in partnership with the Gulf with coastal communities. The strategy specifically recommends working with each of the States to build the integrated capacity needed through effective coastal improvement plans to better secure the future of their coastal communities and to implement existing efforts underway.

The Task Force delivered the final strategy on Fri., Dec. 2, to Obama.

Audubon of Florida Director Eric Draper applauded the restoration plan in a press release sent out this afternoon, and called on Congress to pass the RESTORE Act, a piece of legislation that would dedicate 80 percent of the penalties paid by BP and other responsible parties to gulf restoration. The Act was introduced in July by nine lawmakers from affected states, including Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson.

“BP fines should not be treated as found money available to plug federal deficits and other spending. The penalties for oiled birds, damaged shores and idle fishing boats should come back [to] the states to restore our Gulf environment,” said Draper. “The oil spill showed that people and wildlife of the Gulf live in a delicate balance. The penalty must be investment to secure our future, so send the BP fines back for Gulf restoration.”

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