Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) Adaptation Strategies

Executive Summary 

Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE) is a community-based planning and capital investment process that will help the state fund and implement several projects, including for managed retreat, to make its coasts more resilient. In 2016, Louisiana’s Office for Community Development–Disaster Recovery Unit received a nearly $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the National Disaster Resilience Competition and additional state and nongovernmental funds to implement LA SAFE. The grant will support the design and implementation of resilience projects to address impacts in six coastal parishes that were affected by Hurricane Isaac in 2012 (Jefferson, Lafourche, Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, and Terrebonne). The state partnered with the nonprofit Foundation for Louisiana to administer LA SAFE and facilitate an extensive, year-long community engagement process that will result in implementation of ten funded projects across the six parishes. LA SAFE adopts a regional approach to addressing coastal flood risk; projects are designed to address risk and resilience across multiple sectors (e.g., housing, transportation, infrastructure, economic development), and to advance adaptation projects to achieve different risk-based goals (e.g., reshape development in low risk areas that will receive populations migrating from coastal areas, retrofit development in moderate risk areas to accommodate increasing flood risk, and resettle people in high flood risk areas losing land and population). 

Building on LA SAFE’s community-driven framework for adaptation and the ten state-funded projects, the state is continuing to work with the six parishes to mainstream and institutionalize adaptation and resilience at both the regional and parish levels. In May 2019, the state released a regional adaptation strategy and six parish-level strategies to support long-term adaptation planning. Each strategy follows LA SAFE’s framework for identifying projects to meet different adaptation and development goals based on flood risk to ensure that future regional and local projects are similarly designed to advance comprehensive approaches. The strategies’ goals include water management, housing and development, transportation, education, economies, jobs, and culture and recreation. Notably, to support parishes in reaching their housing and development goals, the strategies identify projects that direct growth to low risk areas and prepare receiving communities. These strategies will assist the parishes to develop and invest in additional projects that will be more resilient to coastal impacts over the state's 50-year planning horizon and achieve multiple benefits for communities. By contemplating a regional, rather than a parish-specific, approach to addressing coastal risk, LA SAFE provides a model that other states and local governments may consider when making long-term adaptation and resilience investments, including for managed retreat.



Louisiana is the most flood-prone coastal state in the U.S. and is also experiencing the fastest rate of land loss. The state is undertaking a suite of coastal resilience and adaptation strategies to prepare for these impacts that are being exacerbated by climate change. Through one response, in 2016, the state Office of Community Development (OCD) partnered with the nonprofit Foundation for Louisiana (FFL) to implement Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments (LA SAFE), a community-based planning and a capital investment process that includes six coastal parishes in Louisiana to build resiliency over a future 50-year timeline. The six parishes include Jefferson, Lafourche, Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, and Terrebonne. The goal of LA SAFE is to develop strategies for long term resilience for coastal communities, to design community-driven development plans, and to provide gap funding to create resilience-building models that are transferable and scalable within six parishes. Through LA SAFE, the state awarded ten projects in total to reduce flood risk in each parish and the region. The state and FFL held 71 community meetings with 2,835 participants to select the final ten projects within the six parishes collaboratively. 

Building on LA SAFE’s community-driven model for adaptation and the ten awarded projects, the state continued working with the six parishes to mainstream and institutionalize adaptation and resilience at both the parish and regional levels. In May 2019, the state released one regional adaptation strategy and six parish adaptation strategies (strategies) for a total of seven. The strategies build on LA SAFE’s framework to categorize the region and six parishes into three levels of flood risk, from low to high, and further identify LA SAFE’s goals for adaptation implementation. The aim is that these strategies will assist parishes in developing and investing in projects that will be more resilient to coastal impacts over the state's 50-year planning horizon and achieve multiple benefits for communities, the environment, and economies.


Managed Retreat Examples

LA SAFE Adaptation Strategies Overview

The seven climate adaptation strategies can serve as a model for how coastal states and local governments can institutionalize and mainstream long-term, comprehensive approaches to adaptation, including managed retreat, and planning for “receiving” areas or communities where people may choose to relocate to higher ground locations. The regional adaptation strategy contains five chapters. Beginning with background information on LA SAFE, the regional adaptation strategy emphasizes the importance of regional thinking and multi-jurisdictional coordination. Because of Louisiana’s shifting population from high flood risk to lower flood risk areas within and across parishes, the regional adaptation strategy envisions regional-scale adaptation planning. It then proceeds with a 50-year vision and planning context with adaptation goals and projects. The last chapter provides recommendations for next steps.  

Each of the six parish strategies is structured identically. Specifically, each parish strategy contains five chapters, beginning with a brief background on LA SAFE and the parish-specific community planning process that informed the development and selection of the ten state-funded projects and these strategies. Then, in chapters two and three, the strategies summarize the parishes’ natural and social hazards and vulnerabilities, and the existing conditions of each parish’s natural environment, housing and development, transportation, economy, and heritage and culture. Building on the preceding chapters, in chapter four, the strategies present each parish’s 50-year vision by flood risk level (low, moderate, and high), and five adaptation goals to organize future actions across multiple sectors that may be affected: 

  • Goal 1: Water Management (Manage Flooding and Subsidence)
  • Goal 2: Housing and Development (Direct Growth to Low Risk Areas)
  • Goal 3: Transportation (Improve Mobility Throughout the Parish and Region)
  • Goal 4: Education, Economy, Jobs (Strengthen and Diversify Local Economies)
  • Goal 5: Culture and Recreation (Retain Local Culture and Enhance Recreation Opportunities)

Given the state’s varying degrees of flood risk and social and land-use conditions along the coast, the state worked to comprehensively develop potential adaptation projects across the three levels of flood risk and five adaptation goals. 

Finally, chapter five concludes with next steps the parishes can take to implement the strategies by including six “catalytic” projects for each parish — including those currently being funded by the state — that residents voted on and helped design through the first phase of the LA SAFE process. These projects can potentially serve as a starting point for parishes going forward. Separately, chapter five also includes an implementation table that each parish can use as a road map to prioritize future actions and resources over different time scales: the near term (one to ten years), medium term (11 to 25 years), and long term (over 25 years). 

In the end, the state acknowledges that achieving a regional and parish vision will necessitate collaborative partnerships and coordination across every level of government, with nonprofits like FFL, and various stakeholder interests and community members. 

Preparing Receiving Areas

While the strategies address adaptations across varying levels of flood risk, they also include considerations for managed retreat and specifically investing in higher ground receiving communities with low flood risk where people may choose to relocate in response to sea-level rise, coastal flooding, and land loss. In all seven strategies, the primary discussion of managed retreat and receiving community investments is included in chapter four, section three, Goal 2: Housing and Development. Each parish strategy, however, is distinct in that each parish identifies different implementation actions it can consider to achieve Goal 2. Overall, most parishes include actions to help people relocate to lower risk receiving communities by suggesting that parishes provide financial relocation incentives and education programs and restrict development in high risk areas to recreational, fishing, and coastal/water-based commercial uses

The strategies also highlight the need for proactive planning and investments in receiving communities to make receiving areas desirable and more resilient for new residents. For example, the strategies include actions regarding how parishes should create receiving community or neighborhood plans in low flood risk areas to accommodate future development and increased densities; prioritize the development of mixed-use and affordable housing to benefit a diversity of residents; and incorporate open spaces and resilient building design standards. For a complete list of the region’s and each parish’s implementation actions for Goal 2, please see Table One


Community Engagement

Community engagement served as the foundation for developing the LA SAFE adaptation strategies. These strategies built on the five rounds of meetings the state and FFL held in each parish during the LA SAFE process. As provided in the adaptation strategies, it is the aim that each parish will continue to engage its residents as the adaptation strategies are implemented or revised. 



In 2016, following a series of federally declared disasters, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided $1 billion in Community Development Block Grant–Disaster Recovery funding for LA SAFE through the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC) to eligible state and local governments to stimulate the development of innovative resilience projects. Louisiana received $39.75 million from NDRC and the state pledged an additional $250,000 during the application process, bringing the total to $40 million. Later, the state added additional funds that totaled $47.5 million. FFL also contributed financial support to the process, which demonstrates LA SAFE’s ability to leverage nongovernmental sources of funding to support community engagement processes. 

The ten LA SAFE projects funded by the state range in cost from $475,000 to $7 million. Other projects, as proposed in the strategies, may be funded on a project-by-process basis as they may be prioritized by individual parishes, the region, or the state for implementation.


Next Steps 

In September 2019, St. John the Baptist Parish was the first of the six parishes to adopt its adaptation strategy. St. John aims to integrate its LA SAFE strategy into local policies and future development decisions. The state is working with the five other parishes to officially codify their strategies as well. 

In 2020, the state anticipates beginning to construct the ten funded projects. Other projects included in the adaptation strategies may be implemented in the future based upon different factors like government prioritization, resident support, and funding availability. 


Considerations and Lessons Learned 

LA SAFE used a unique, community-based model for developing regional and parish-specific adaptation strategies. Other state, regional, and local governments and nongovernmental entities, like nonprofits and community-based organizations, can consider LA SAFE to shape community engagement processes, adaptation plans, and the selection of adaptation projects on different geographic scales. In particular, discussions about managed retreat necessitate community engagement to facilitate potential transitions away from the coast. 

It is also important to recognize that LA SAFE has taken a comprehensive approach to long-term adaptation planning. First, in addition to the six parish strategies, the regional strategy complements multi-jurisdictional coordination. Moreover, each parish strategy is built on the same framework and also accommodates individual, parish-specific risks, concerns, and goals. A regional approach can be useful both for the people who may be moving to higher ground in other parishes or municipalities and the jurisdictions receiving them. LA SAFE’s planning for receiving communities on a regional scale will be key to supporting community transitions and minimizing the social, psychological, and economic costs that can be associated with retreat. 

Second, the adaptation strategies can better ensure that future decisions about managed retreat actions are implemented in accordance with a comprehensive vision and goals. Proactive, long-term investments in adaptation, including for managed retreat, will enable Louisiana and other jurisdictions to better adapt and become more resilient in the face of changing climate impacts on the coast.


Publication Date: May 2019

Related Resources:

Related Toolkits:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Adaptation plan

States Affected:


Go To Resource