Before we get to the answer, let’s go back in history to take a look at how things really got started.
Most folks around here and all over Louisiana are now very aware of the issue. It’s calculated that 400 square feet of land (a football field) of our coast and marsh disappears every hour. By the time I finish with this column, we will have lost two more football fields worth. Astonishing, isn’t it?
The answer to Coastal Erosion is not that complicated, but it is very painful in more ways than one. Before we get to the answer, let’s go back in history to take a look at how things really got started.
From the time of creation the mighty Mississippi River flowed from Minnesota out to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, the swift current churned and eroded sediment from the bottom and banks. It then carried the nutrient rich soil downstream.
Along came the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that turned out to be the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States, with 27,000 square miles inundated up to a depth of 30 feet. Ninety-four percent of the more than 630,000 people affected by the flood lived in the states of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, most in the Mississippi Delta.
Just like things happen today, when something out of the ordinary occurs the government feels the need to come to the rescue. Now I’m not talking about helping folks in need. What I refer to is “How can we keep this from happening again?”
The US Army Corp of Engineers was tasked to try to prevent future floods. The federal government then built the world's longest system of levees and floodways. In my humble opinion this was one of the worst decisions ever made to damage the geology and eco-system anywhere in the United States.
Prior to 1900, the Mississippi River transported an estimated 400 million metric tons of this brown gold per year depositing it everywhere it went. It benefitted not only the coastal Louisiana marshes but all the other places outside of its banks which resulted in new land being built, especially near the mouth of the Gulf.
During the last two decades, this number has been reduced by over two thirds to only 145 million metric tons per year. The reduction in sediment transported down the River is the result of engineering modification done by government or man.
The Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers along with their tributaries are now controlled by dams, river-training structures (levees and flood control structures), bank revetments and soil erosion control programs.
But the biggest culprit is the levee system built along the banks of the lower Mississippi after the flood of 1927 that now starves the deltas of Louisiana of the much-needed, nutrient enriched sediment.
To add insult to injury a vast network of shipping routes such as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, the Houma Navigational Canal, the Calcasieu Ship Channel, the Freshwater Bayou, and hundreds of smaller oil and gas navigation routes were carved into the wetlands.
These canals allowed saltwater to penetrate deep into the wetlands, killing marsh vegetation, eroding the banks and disrupting the salinity balance important for species at the heart of the Gulf’s food web such as shrimp, blue crabs, and oysters. This process continues today.
The answer is pretty simple, but the process will be time consuming and costly. The money spent to create all these problems was astronomical. The amount needed to fix it will be multiplied many times over. The Mississippi River needs to enrich the marshes once again.
It’s already working in two places naturally today. New land is being walked upon in the Atchafalaya Delta every year as Mississippi River water is diverted into the Atchafalaya River and is deposited near the Gulf like it should. Where folks are duck hunting this season will be walking on dry land there next year.
The 2nd spot has been happening for over 30 years now. The reason I know it’s working is because we used to have a duck camp on the east side of the Mississippi River and we traveled through it to get to the camp.
The first breach in the levee happened there. It allowed the Mississippi to dump river water in the marsh during high water times and over five years the canal we ran to get to the lease became impassable because dry land now occupies the canal we ran our boats through.
On the east side of the river from Buras to Baptiste Collette, the marsh is prospering and adding land instead of losing it. The levee took the river away so the only hope is to move the levee away where we can and let it flow through the marsh again. It’s the only hope. “Let the river flow” has been the phrase repeated over and over in my mind lately as that is what’s needed.
Nutrient-rich, freshwater being introduced back to the marsh is the only long-term cure along with pumped-in sand to help create land mass. But this will cause hardship for many folks who live and make their sustenance from the salt water. Their concern is legitimate, but if we don’t do anything their land and homes will disappear as well in time.
The Prophet Ezekiel sees a vision of a great river that flows from the throne of God. This is part of that vision, "Every living thing that gathers where the river goes will live." There will be many fish, because these waters go there and make the saltwater clean.
So everything will live where the river goes. "Fishermen will stand beside it. They will have places to spread their nets from the Biloxi marsh to the Sabine River." (Biloxi and Sabine added by me.) Maybe we could follow the advice of the one who made it in the first place. Let the river flow.
Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. So, until next time, have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God truly bless you!
Lyle Johnson is a free-lance writer, co-host of Ascension Outdoors TV and Curator of the Louisiana State Fish Records. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EASL Monthly Meeting: 3rd Monday every month, East Ascension Sportsman’s League meeting held at Chef KD’s on Highway 74 starting at 7:00 p.m. A meal served and special speaker will be in attendance.
Grand Isle Ladies Fishing Rodeo: Oct 5-6 out of Bridgeside Marina. $20 entry fee includes cap, door prizes & Oct 6 dinner/dance. Benefits area breast cancer centers. Tickets at Bridge Side, Grand Isle Port Commission & Butterfly Dome. Call Marth Ham 985-787-2229 or Louise Lafont 985-787-2997 for info.
Fall-N-Tide XIV Kayak Fishing Tournament: Oct 5-6 out of Cypress Cove Marina. Bayou Coast Kayak Fishing Club Event open to the public. Fee $60 includes meals, shirt & captains bag. Preregistration required. www.bckfc.org.
Squirrel season: Oct 7-Feb 28 daily bag limit 8 possession 24.
Rabbit season: Oct 7-Feb 28 daily bag limit 8 possession 24.
Delta Waterfowl Banquet: November 2 at Lamar Dixon Expo Center starting at 6 p.m. with dinner starting at 7:30. Contact Kristen Latiolais at 225-315-3023 or email email@example.com.