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This Massive Model Of The Mississippi River Delta Could Help Restore The Fragile Ecosystem

This Massive Model Of The Mississippi River Delta Could Help Restore The Fragile Ecosystem

The LSU Center for River Studies houses the Lower Mississippi River Physical Model, a 90-foot by 120-foot movable bed physical model, which is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Louisiana has lost about 2,000 square miles of coastline in the last 80 years according to estimates — an area about the size of Delaware. Coastal erosion and seawater damage have a lot to do with it.

Scientists have built a massive model of the Mississippi River Delta to discover the best way to restore the fragile ecosystem. Here & Now's Mina Kim learns more about the efforts, and problems facing the delta, from Clint Willson (@clintwillson), director of the Center for River Studies at Louisiana State University.

Interview Highlights

On why Mississippi River Delta wetlands are being overtaken by salt water

"The biggest problem we have is that the river has been disconnected from a lot of the wetlands, and we made that decision as a nation 150 years ago, and then reinforced that to allow the ships and allow the industries along the river to grow. So we basically leveed the river in order to maintain the navigation and protect those communities. The result of that is that we've disconnected the river, and so the river's no longer delivering the water, the sediment, the nutrients back to the wetlands."

On what kind of damage the seawater has caused

"The biggest problem, is that our coast is really a deltaic coast, so it relied upon the delivery of sediment over thousands of years. And when you disconnect that, you get [a] natural process like subsidence, saltwater intrusion and you get major wetland loss. The vegetation changes types, and then at some point dies off. And so, we've lost almost 2,000 square miles of wetlands, and that's projected to continue over the next 50 years."

On efforts to divert parts of the river and bring sediments back to these wetlands

"The state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the lead agency, developed a master plan for restoration and protection. One of the primary project types in their master plan are sediment diversions. The idea is to, in a controlled way, reintroduce the river, and its nutrients and its sediments, back into our wetlands."