NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The Mississippi River could be re-channeled and the southern-most part of the state left to the whims of nature in order to sustain areas farther north, according to the visions outlined by three international design teams.
The teams, selected from 21 entries in the Changing Course Design Competition, were tasked with finding the best way to utilize the Mississippi River for navigation and restoration purposes. The competition, sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Van Alen Institute, was detailed in a Scientific American article.
"It's such a powerful engine, this river," said Steve Cochran, director for Mississippi River Delta Restoration at the Environmental Defense Fund, who oversaw the competition. "How can we use the most of it?"
The concept of re-engineering the river is nothing new, having been discussed among engineers since the 1970s. However, it rarely draws much public attention.
The bird's foot is effectively left out of the state's coastal master plan since many scientists believe subsidence and sea level rise will swallow the lower part of the delta by the turn of the century. Studies, including one at LSU, have concluded that the modern river carries roughly half its historic sediment load, suggesting the resources to rebuild the entire delta no longer exist.
Since 1932, geologists estimate the state has lost almost 2,000 square miles of marsh, bayous, swamps and islands.
Cochran points out the project involved a 100-year planning horizon.
"Look out, what does it take for us to be here the way we want to be in 100 years - not just next year, not just 50 years?" Cochran said.
As for the fishermen who bitterly oppose the state's plans for massive diversions to deliver sediment into the marsh, he argues, "we need to think more broadly" and bring people together to find solutions.
"That sounds idealistic, but you've got to start there and have that complete conversation," Cochran said. "So that you're doing things with people rather than to them. That's not how it feels for too many people on the bottom end of the coast right now."