Stormwater, sewage, and agricultural runoff have polluted waters of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin for decades. From 2002 to 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded about $31 million for projects to help restore this basin by, for example, improving local sewer systems.
EPA has a plan that describes restoration goals for this basin and projects that could help reach the goals. However, it doesn't have a way to measure progress. For example, the plan includes a goal and projects to reduce sewage pollution—but doesn't specify how it will measure the reduction in pollution.
We recommended that EPA develop and use such performance measures.
Funds Awarded by the EPA for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Program, FYs 2002-2021
What GAO Found
Federal and nonfederal entities have made numerous efforts to restore the water quality and ecosystems in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, which is an important water resource for communities in the region, including New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For example, through the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Program authorized in 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded about $31 million to administer and implement projects through this program. Such projects have included improving local sewer systems and monitoring water quality. In addition, the state of Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has completed numerous Basin restoration projects, such as reconstructing shoreline marsh (see fig.).
Bayou Bonfouca Marsh Creation Project
EPA has generally followed agency- and government-wide grants management regulations, policies, and procedures in managing Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Program grants. For example, consistent with agency policy, EPA has reviewed grant recipients' quality assurance project plans and conducted annual programmatic reviews. However, EPA has not always ensured transparency by providing potential applicants with key grant information—such as expected funding levels and timelines—needed to make decisions about their grant applications. GAO has previously reported that complete information about grants should be publicly available. Unless EPA improves the availability of key grant information to make it publicly accessible in a central location, the agency will not be able to adequately communicate information that potential applicants need to apply effectively for grants.
EPA has taken initial actions to manage the performance of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Program. For example, the agency defined the mission and desired outcomes of the program by approving a comprehensive conservation and management plan as a guiding document. This plan describes broad goals and the types of projects that may help reach these goals, but it does not include performance measures for measuring progress. For example, the plan includes a goal to reduce sewage pollution in the Basin and identifies projects that may assist in meeting this goal, but it does not include performance measures to determine progress made in reducing sewage pollution. Without developing and using performance measures, EPA will not be positioned to know if the program is achieving the desired results.
Why GAO Did This Study
The lakes, rivers, and other water bodies in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin support industry, provide habitat for plants and animals, and create recreational opportunities. However, stormwater, sewage, and agricultural runoff have polluted Basin waters for decades. To address these challenges, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Act of 2000 called for EPA to establish the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Program to restore the ecological health of the Basin.
GAO was asked to review restoration efforts in the Basin. This report examines (1) restoration efforts since 1995, (2) EPA's implementation of relevant grants management requirements for its Lake Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Program, and (3) EPA's management of the program's performance.
GAO reviewed documents concerning Basin restoration efforts and the program; interviewed representatives from EPA, other federal agencies, state and local governments, a nonprofit, and recipients of program funding; and compared EPA's grants and performance management of the program against leading practices.
GAO is making four recommendations to EPA, including that EPA (1) make key grant program information publicly available in a central location, such as a website; and (2) update the program's comprehensive conservation and management plan to include performance measures. EPA agreed with the recommendations and highlighted steps it has begun taking and plans to take to address them.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Environmental Protection Agency||The EPA Administrator should improve the availability of key grant information by making it publicly accessible in a central location, such as a website. (Recommendation 1)|
|Environmental Protection Agency||The EPA Administrator should define the geographic boundaries of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin to clarify which parishes and counties are included within the Basin's boundaries to ensure that EPA convenes appropriate stakeholders to implement the PRP. (Recommendation 2)|
|Environmental Protection Agency||The EPA Administrator, in updating the comprehensive conservation and management plan, should collaborate with relevant stakeholders to ensure that the plan reflects the current state of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin and includes performance measures. (Recommendation 3)|
|Environmental Protection Agency||The EPA Administrator should develop and document a process for overseeing the PRP. (Recommendation 4)|