The Mississippi River Delta once funneled millions of tons of land-building sediment into the shallow Gulf of Mexico, creating Louisiana's extensive marsh network. Those wetlands are now disappearing due to human and natural causes, including storm surges. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Four years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Louisiana coast, federal and state officials are making little progress in restoring the state's storm-buffering coastal wetlands. Now, restoration advocates and scientists are increasing calls for a solution that takes advantage of the Mississippi River's natural land-building power by reconnecting the sediment-laden river to its sediment-starved delta.
Even before the hurricanes hit in 2005, federal and state officials, scientists and environmental groups had begun trying to rebuild the state's wetlands, which provide crucial habitat for one of North America's most important migratory bird flyways, support commercial fisheries and help protect 2 million coastal residents from storm surges. Congress has also authorized several new projects, and the Army Corps of Engineers recently released a report on how to protect the coast from future storms.
But those efforts have, by many accounts, failed to address the problem in any meaningful way. Scientists and restoration proponents say it is time for a far more ambitious, delta-wide approach that would reverse some of the hydrological monkey-wrenching that has starved the delta of sediment and freshwater for so many decades.