The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Why Midwest Floods Are Critical to the Restoration of the Louisiana Coast
Flooding isn’t generally a good thing, but historically, large floods like the ones in the Midwest this winter helped build the Mississippi River Delta and its surrounding wetlands. Rainwater from 31 states and two Canadian provinces drains into the river, carrying with it sediment—or more plainly, sand and dirt—from Midwest farm fields into the river and down to Louisiana. Over time, as the river snaked back and forth across the delta it deposited sediment like a leaking hose, creating wetlands.
These wetlands provide essential habitat for wildlife and birds, as well as critical storm protection for communities by helping to block storm surge and flooding.
But by the early 20th century, the entire Mississippi River had been leveed for navigation and flood protection, straightjacketing the river and severing its tie to Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. That has meant that the sediment in the river cannot continue to support the land it built, but is instead shunted out into the Gulf of Mexico, where it settles uselessly to the bottom.
In large part because of this engineering of the river, since the 1930s Louisiana has lost nearly 1,900 square miles of land—that’s like the entire state of Delaware disappearing into the ocean. Every hour, Louisiana continues, on average, to lose a football field of land.
This land loss crisis is ongoing, leaving cities like New Orleans increasingly unprotected from storms and more vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise.
This winter’s opening of the Bonnet Carré spillway, a large flood control structure in the levee just above New Orleans, was one of the earliest on record and over the past decade, the spillway has had to be opened more frequently as weather patterns across the country shift and contribute to increased rainfall and storms in the Midwest.
Spillways like the Bonnet Carré are critical for relieving pressure on levees burdened by swollen Mississippi River waters and are miracles of engineering. But they are not designed to capture the sediment in the river for coastal restoration. We fail to take advantage of the most powerful land-building tool that we have—the Mississippi River.
We need a suite of solutions that not only relieve the pressure on water levels but also build resilience to the kind of extreme weather that is making our nation’s coasts so vulnerable.
Solution: Capture the Sediment
Well-designed and strategically placed sediment diversions can help us use the sediment in the river more efficiently to help restore Louisiana’s coast.
Sediment diversions work by directing sediment and fresh water from the river into adjacent basins to build and sustain land. As the sediment compacts, it creates a base for plants to grow and thrive. These plant roots in turn help stabilize and support the new land.
In short, sediment diversions mimic the natural land-building process that once built the Mississippi River Delta thousands of years ago.
Last fall, the state of Louisiana made a commitment to move forward with two key sediment diversions in southeast Louisiana. When constructed, these diversions will help capture the sediment in the river and utilize it for coastal restoration. And during future high-water events, spillways and sediment diversions will work together to prevent flooding and rebuild coastal wetlands by directing sediment from the river to areas that need it most.
We don’t need to choose between protection and restoration. But we do need practical solutions like sediment diversions coupled with flood control measures that will allow us to enjoy the full benefits of both.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
You've probably heard the buzz around collagen supplements and your skin by now. But is the hype really that promising? After all, research has pointed to both the benefits and downsides of collagen supplements — and for many beauty-conscious folk, collagen isn't vegan.
By Marlene Cimons
Neil Pederson's introduction to tree rings came from a "sweet and kindly" college instructor, who nevertheless was "one of the most boring professors I'd ever experienced," Pederson said. "I swore tree rings off then and there." But they kept coming back to haunt him.
By Daisy Brickhill
Each morning, men living in fishing communities along Ghana's coastline push off in search of the day's catch. But when the boats come back to shore, it's the women who take over.
By Sam Nickerson
Links between excess sugar in your diet and disease have been well-documented, but new research by Harvard's School of Public Health might make you even more wary of that next soda: it could increase your risk of an early death.
The study, published this week in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation, found that drinking one or two sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) each day — like sodas or sports drinks — increases risk of an early death by 14 percent.
Tyson Foods Recalls Nearly 70,000 Pounds of Chicken Strips After Customers Find ‘Fragments of Metal’
Tyson Foods is recalling approximately 69,093 pounds of frozen chicken strips because they may have been contaminated with pieces of metal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced Thursday.
The affected products were fully-cooked "Buffalo Style" and "Crispy" chicken strips with a "use by" date of Nov. 30, 2019 and an establishment number of "P-7221" on the back of the package.
"FSIS is concerned that some product may be in consumers' freezers," the recall notice said. "Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase."
Environmental exposure to pesticides, both before birth and during the first year of life, has been linked to an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, according to the largest epidemiological study to date on the connection.
The study, published Wednesday in BMJ, found that pregnant women who lived within 2,000 meters (approximately 1.2 miles) of a highly-sprayed agricultural area in California had children who were 10 to 16 percent more likely to develop autism and 30 percent more likely to develop severe autism that impacted their intellectual ability. If the children were exposed to pesticides during their first year of life, the risk they would develop autism went up to 50 percent.