Big Plan in the Works to Reengineer Mississippi River

The project is ambitious and highly controversial, but something must be done
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 6, 2022 6:30 AM CDT
The Great Mississippi Mud Diversion May Start Soon
Camps are seen among fragmented marsh in Plaquemines Parish, La., on Nov. 3.   (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(Newser) – Work could soon begin on the great Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, considered the "largest ecosystem restoration project in US history," writes Boyce Upholt for Hakai Magazine. Aspects of the $2 billion engineering scheme have been in the works for decades, ever since people began noticing the alarming pace of land loss in the Delta caused by centuries of efforts to tame the Mississippi River. If nothing is done, Louisiana stands to lose the vital marshlands that dominate the Delta. Environmentalists, shrimpers, oil companies, coastal communities, tribes, and officials at all levels of government agree that something must be done, but nobody wants to live with the consequences of the proposed solutions.

It's all about mud. Tributaries from 32 states plus two Canadian provinces drain into the Mississippi, which carries not only water but more than 300 million tons of dirt to the Gulf of Mexico each year. Over three centuries, efforts to tame the river have resulted in an uninterrupted system of levees stretching hundreds of miles and disrupting the natural distribution of all that mud. Adding to the problem, oil companies have built a vast and under-regulated network of canals, causing up to half of the land loss across the Delta by some estimates.

The proposed diversion will punch a gap in the levee system and enable restoration of thousands of acres of marshland. An impact study by the Army Corps of Engineers suggests existing ecosystems and communities will be dramatically altered in the process. However, for all the hubbub, Upholt concludes that it might not matter much unless something is done to address rising oceans caused by climate change. Read more here. (Read more Mississippi Delta stories.)

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