Louisiana’s coastal land exhibits severe rates of erosion. Since 1930, Louisiana has lost approximately 1,900 square miles of land. The rates of land loss are increasing in many areas, and the state is projected to lose another 1,750 square miles if no action is taken. The state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) developed an ambitious plan, the Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast “master plan”, to combat land loss and restore coastal wetlands. The plan included several wetland restoration projects that were estimated at the time to cost $27.6 billion. The ecosystem functions performed by coastal wetlands are known to provide valuable benefits, to society. These benefits are known as ecosystem services. The NWF commissioned Mather Economics to estimate the economic value of potential improvements in these ecosystem services resulting from implementation of the master plan. These ecosystem services include:
- Storm Surge Attenuation
- Recreational Fishing, Hunting, and Nature Based Tourism (e.g. boating, birding)
- Commercial Fishing Habitat
- Freshwater Availability
- Shallow Draft Navigation
- Water Quality and Nutrient Regulation
Mather conducted extensive literature review, expert interviews, and site visits to collect the relevant data and establish valid assumptions on which economic models can be built. Each ecosystem service is evaluated under scenarios with and without master plan project implementation using empirical results from recent scientific research, including research performed in support of the creation of the master plan, and the latest economic data. Our value estimates for each ecosystem service are presented to maximize interpretability and usability in an effort to offer transparency with respect to the methodology used.
Mather found significant positive economic benefits resulting from improved ecosystem services as a result of coastal restoration. The total present value of improved ecosystem services across the life of the project was estimated to be approximately $39 billion, with upper bound estimates of $58 billion – considerably more than the $27.6 billion estimated cost. The estimated return on investment in the CPRA master plan was 42%, justifying the cost of the project. Many of the master plan projects have subsequently been implemented.