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Editorial: A huge investment, but only one part of saving Barataria and our coast

A Women of the Storm umbrella at the ground-breaking ceremony for the start of construction for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion south of Belle Chasse, Louisiana on Thursday, August 10, 2023. The long-needed diversion will one day deliver sediment and nutrients from the Mississippi River into the disappearing south Louisiana coast just south of New Orleans

Posted on August 23, 2023

The Mississippi River is just part of life here, so much so that perhaps we do not often think much about living on one of the great rivers of the world. Its broad avenue of commerce has nurtured this region and the nation for centuries, dating back to the days of dugout canoes.

So while the cost has gone up on a major diversion project to bring more of the river’s sediments to the marshes they built and sustained before the age of modern flood protection, the fact is that fixing what ails the Louisiana river delta was always going to be expensive.

Officials finally broke ground recently on the nearly $3 billion initiative, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Project. It will divert some of the river’s sediment-laden water into a new channel and into the Barataria Bay region, which is has been steadily losing ground to rising seas and hurricane erosion for centuries, too.

The delta of the great river was built by sediment deposited over thousands of years, but mankind’s natural desire for predictability — and safety — led to levees that protected communities from flooding. The process accelerated after the Great Flood of 1927, one of America’s landmark events.

And as Louisiana sought more levee protection from flooding, the river’s land-building effects were circumscribed.

Thus today’s crisis a century later, and a diversion project that aims to mimic the natural process that built much of Louisiana in prehistoric times.

The big project has its detractors, including fishing interests like those that harvest Louisiana’s wonderful oysters, sensitive to freshwater intrusion. Nor is it clear entirely how much “new” land will be built up, either 21 square miles or as much as 40, depending on the flow over 50 years.

But sediment diversion is thought to be the only way actually to recover land lost to the Gulf of Mexico along the coast, although rebuilding barrier islands and other projects are also part of the big picture.

That’s why we support the Mid-Barataria project, because it is part — even if a pricey part — of a more comprehensive and multifaceted series of actions that will take a generation to put into place. Those include things as obvious and engineering-oriented as levee protection for the coast, as with the new flood walls in metro New Orleans put up after Hurricane Katrina. Or as simple as planting marsh grasses to preserve the land along the Gulf.

In a bipartisan fashion, coastal preservation has been a goal of the entire state’s leadership, as expressed through Louisiana’s impressively comprehensive Coastal Master Plan. 

Our plans may not be perfect, but they are state-of-the-art in the world.

And the work will continue well beyond this one project, however prominent it might be.


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