"Population is growing and 'corrupting resource/environment potential critical
to continuing human existence' faster than 'inevitable dirigiste heurism' is growing to contain that
population and corruption".
(-from Human Nature and Continuing Human
A sludge of sediment pours out of a pipeline in southeastern Louisiana, where
government officials are dredging mud and silt from shipping channels and
pumping it into the vanishing marshland. "The discharge pipe meanders back and
forth like the river once did, creating little mini-deltas of sand and clay,"
says Ted Falgout, executive director of Port Fourchon. -Kathleen Schalch,
All Things Considered, June 7, 2007 National
La. Wants to Change River's Course to Save Coast
In what would be an engineering feat unlike any in the nation's history,
Louisiana wants to move the Mississippi River as part of a master plan to save
the state's vanishing coastal wetlands. Many experts believe it's the only
thing that will work.
Southeast Louisiana is the fastest disappearing landmass on
Earth. On average, every half hour or so, a piece the size of a football field
slips into the Gulf of Mexico.
"It's like the Gulf of Mexico has gotten 20 to 30 miles
closer to everybody in southeast Louisiana," Windell Curole says as he stands
on top of the levee system in Bayou Lafourche. As general manager of the South
Lafourche Levee District, it's his job to try to hold back the sea.
To the south, people have abandoned their homes as the land
has turned to marsh, then to open water. Soon, Curole says, even the earthen
levee may not be enough to protect them.
"We either start tackling the problem or we help people move
and communities move out, and all the infrastructure along with it," he
Coastal erosion threatens New Orleans, as well as oil
facilities vital to the nation's energy supply, ports that handle more than
half of its grain shipments, and the estuaries that produce a third of its
seafood. But to understand why the coast is vanishing, it is necessary to know
how it got there.
Denise Reed, a geology professor at the University of New
Orleans, says the whole coast of Louisiana was built by the river, which kept
changing course, squiggling back and forth like a loose garden hose and
spreading sediment everywhere it went. But since humans tamed it with levees,
the river can only build land in one place — farther and farther out to
"Until we're at the point where we are now, where the water
and the sediment that comes out of the mouth of the river goes straight into
the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico," Reed says.
And that sediment is never to be seen again. State and
federal officials have tried for two decades to find enough sediment to shore
up the coastline. They are dredging mud and silt from shipping channels and
pumping it into drowning marshland. They're also building gates into the levees
along the Mississippi to let some of the water and sediment flow into the
But it's not enough. For every square mile of land the state
has created, five more miles have slipped away. That's why state officials and
scientists like Reed want to go further and actually change the river's
"We cannot continue wasting 120 million tons of sediment a
year into the deep waters of the Gulf. It's ridiculous," Reed says.
Louisiana's new master plan to save the coastline calls for
diverting the Mississippi to the east or west or even both, somewhere below New
Orleans. The sediment would fall into shallow water, where the winds and tides
could sculpt it into land.
The state Legislature unanimously approved the master plan
"When Katrina and Rita hit, all of a sudden you had a big
exclamation point put on the urgency," says Sidney Coffee, chairwoman of the
state's restoration authority.
Coffee says a new federal law will give the state money from
off-shore oil leases to help pay for the design, excavation and construction.
The final cost could be up to $5 billion.
The biggest challenge will be to keep the big ships moving up
and down the river. Michael Lorina, president of the river pilots' trade
association, says he worries that freighters would have to pass through
"They would be stacked up all over the place, and I see this
as something that will add hours upon already a long transit up the Mississippi
River," Lorina says.
Even if planners and engineers can minimize the delays, there
will still be oyster fishermen to contend with. Flushing freshwater into salty
estuaries will kill oysters.
Kerry St. Pe, director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National
Estuary Program, says he fears that lawsuits will delay the project for
"No one sector of our population wants to see their way of
life annihilated. And I believe that within 10 years, if we don't see
significant land-building, that it's going to be too late," St. Pe says.
State officials agree, but they argue that the river that
built the land will have to be part of the plan to save it.