Future of MS River Delta discussed at PABI luncheonJun 5th, 2012 | By Terri Sercovich | Category: top story
Dr. John Day and Dr. Paul Kemp of the Mississippi River Delta Science and Engineering Special Team gave a presentation on the future of the Delta region during the May 31 PABI luncheon. Pictured is PABI Chairman Reid McClellan, Dr. John Day, Dr. Paul Kemp, and PABI Executive Director Bob Thomas.
The Mississippi River Delta is one of the largest and most productive coastal ecosystems in North America, and as many in Plaquemines Parish are aware of, its future is very uncertain.
Representatives from the Mississippi River Delta Science and Engineering Special Team discussed sustainability of the Mississippi River Delta and the current issues facing the vulnerable region during the May 31 PABI luncheon.
The presentation by Dr. John Day, Chair of MRSES and Oceanography and Coastal Sciences professor at LSU led the presentation with Dr. Paul Kemp of the Audubon Society.
Nearly a quarter of the Delta’s landscape–over 1,800 square miles– have been lost over the last century, Day explained. One factor that contributes to this is the digging of oil and gas canals which allow saltwater from the Gulf to encroach on freshwater areas, upsetting the ecosystem.
“If what’s happening continues to happen, the Mississippi River Delta will disappear in the next 100 years,” Day affirmed.
The sediment problem
Day explained that the Mississippi River doesn’t have enough sediment to sustain the entire delta coastline indefinitely, and the level of sediment in each segment of the river fluctuates with time. As we currently are experiencing a lack of sediment for land creation and restoration downriver, Day explained that further upriver in Missouri, there is the opposite problem– too much sediment is building up.
Day mentioned that there is still plenty of available sediment to sustain targeted regions, but it is important that we use what is available efficiently through carefully designed and engineered plans like sediment diversions– artificial land created from river sediment that will protect the wetlands we have left.
Changing the status quo: river reconfiguration
“Reconfiguring the river and revising the decades old Mississippi River and Tributaries Project is imperative to sustainability of the Delta,” said Kemp. Kemp explained that the restoration will affect communities as it could change water salinity and the locations of coastal resources. But he affirmed that a lack of action will leave the area more vulnerable to both natural and man-made disasters.
Day and Kemp both stressed that over the next 100 years, the path and overall shape of the Mississippi River from Old River Control in Central Louisiana to the current Birdsfoot Delta in Plaquemines Parish is likely to evolve, and with it so will the movement of the river water as well as the land structure of the delta. Day also mentioned that sea level rise and climate change will also fundamentally alter the landscape and biological composition of the delta.
“It’s predicted that waters could rise a meter in the next 100 years– a meter in South Louisiana is a big deal,” said Day.
Baton Rouge is beginning to plan for these changes in the 2012 State Master Plan, which was approved by the legislature last week.
Kemp stated that addition to the State Master Plan, engineers and scientists from around the world are joining in a design competition to find new efficient ways for the said restructuring and redesign of the lower Mississippi River and Delta.
“The design competition is another way to get new ideas more quickly,” Kemp said.