An editorial in today's NOLA Times-Picayune applauds the financial commitment being made to protect Louisiana's coast. Last week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced plans for more than $1 billion in coastal protection and restoration projects in Louisiana - the largest investment in coastal protection in Louisiana history, reported the Environmental News Service.

Today's Times-Picayune editorial states that:

There are hardly more important goals for Louisiana's long-term future than rebuilding our coast and improving hurricane protection -- and it's heartening that state officials are committing serious money to those efforts.
Louisiana has only a few years to reverse coastal erosion before it is too late. Our state is putting money down to do its part -- and Congress needs to do the same.

The projects represent "one of the largest public works efforts in the world," according to Governor Jindal. In funding the more than 150 possible projects, $300 million will go toward levee repair alone in order to meet a 2011 deadline and another $70 million will be used for floodgates, beaches and marshes.

Coastal activists have long called for more state and federal attention and funding to go toward protecting wetlands in the United States. The devastation wrought by the 2005 hurricanes brought attention to the environmental crisis on Louisiana's coast, whose wetlands are disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico at alarming rates. Louisiana's 4,600 square miles of coastal wetlands are lost at a rate of about 35 square miles annually, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Many experts say that healthier wetlands and the natural buffers they create could have provided more protection to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast during the 2005 hurricanes.

For a long time, there has been a tension between coastal protection and levee construction in terms of funding priorities. But many environmentalists and coastal activists see the new spending plan as a step in the right direction to supporting both needs.

"We have always said that, in order to keep Louisiana safe, we need both to strengthen the levees we have now and restore the wetlands and coastal areas that serve as our natural hurricane barriers," Paul Harrison, coastal Louisiana project manager for Environmental Defense Fund, told the Times-Picayune. "This new plan fulfills both of those priorities."

Photo of wetlands from Gulf Restoration Network.