Monday, September 05, 2005
Mississippi River Watershed
Click for larger map
Map courtesy of National Geographic
The Lost Coast
With the runoff from a third of the nation, the Mississippi River built coastal Louisiana, a swath of marsh, islands, and swamp that covered more than 6,000 square miles (15,500 square kilometers) in the early 20th century. Levees raised in the 1930s ended spring floods that pumped vital sediments and nutrients into wetlands. Then nutria, a South American rodent imported by fur farmers, escaped into the wild and began devouring marsh roots. By the 1960s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had dredged 14 major ship channels to inland ports, while oil companies cut countless canals for pipelines and wells, resulting in wetland loss in such areas as Barataria Basin. Add the toll from subsidence and sea-level rise, and Louisiana has lost 1,900 square miles (4,900 square kilometers) of wetlands since the 1930s. With another 700 square miles (1,800 square kilometers) likely to vanish by 2050, the state has proposed an ambitious 14-billion-dollar plan to save what's left. "We ripped the guts out of south Louisiana," says University of New Orleans geologist Shea Penland. "Now we want it back."
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