It’s that time of year when the Mississippi River begins it slow, gradual rise in water level and threatens to flood land from St. Louis, Missouri all the way down to Venice, Louisiana. Louisiana residents generally do not fear an overflow or a break in the levee; the Army Corps of Engineers is hyper vigilant during the spring floods and does an excellent job maintaining our levees. And our levees are strong, having been raised to over 25 ft. down most of the length of the lower Mississippi Valley after the great 1927 flood.
But what we tend to forget during the spring flood season in Louisiana is that we are missing a huge opportunity to replenish the wetlands of South Louisiana. The Mississippi is loaded with nutrient-rich sediment, washed down from its massive basin. Prior to the construction of the current channel-gouging levees, the Mississippi would uniformly flood South Louisiana, laying an even blanket of silt across land and wetlands. Due to the constrictive levees built 90 years ago, the silt-rich water is funneled at high speeds straight out into the Gulf of Mexico and over the Continental Shelf, never to be seen again.
In the last 20 years, three diversion canals have been opened up downriver from New Orleans in Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes in an attempt to recoup some of the land lost (experts have noted that Louisiana loses 50 square miles of coast line each year; roughly an area the size of Rhode Island). These diversion are part of the Coastal Master Plan. The plan does have some opponents, who argue that the fresh water is actually adding to the depletion of the marshes because of pollutants and fertilizers found in the water and an non-uniform flood pattern. An interesting point, for sure.
But if we don’t begin the process of rebuilding the coastline now, we will lose precious time that we may or may not have to halt the land regression. In fact, NOAA just released a report stating that they have removed 31 places names because they have been lost to coastal erosion. Clearly, coastal erosion is happening, and happening on an incredibly large scale.
While there are two sides two every argument (opponents argue that freshwater diversions are destroying the fishing-based livelihood, proponents argue that diversion is the most powerful and cost effective way to replenish coastline), the picture is crystal clear: if we do not come up with a sustainable long-term plan to save Louisiana’s coast, there won’t be any coastline left to save in 100 years. In fact, I may be able to smell the ocean breeze from my house in Darrow, LA.
So please, if you live in Louisiana or want to help ensure that our vibrant culture and way of life down here are preserved, help us advocate for a smart and reasoned plan to restore our coastline. Our lives and children’s future depend on it.
Here are some organizations that are working to restore the coast:
– Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana
– Restore the Gulf
– Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority
– Environmental Defense Fund