Geologically speaking, Louisiana is a very young state. Environmentally speaking, Louisiana is a very fragile state. Louisiana has always been dependent upon the nutrient rich deposits from the Mississippi River to build up the land. Centuries ago the Mississippi River periodically changed its course, building up Louisiana one delta at a time. The erosional forces of the Gulf of Mexico and annual hurricanes depleted Louisiana’s coastline, but the mighty Mississippi River would replenish the land losses. Such is the relationship that forces of nature have with one another. Place mankind in the mix, and the relationship becomes stressed and dysfunctional. The present day Louisiana coastline is a mere shadow of its former self. Let’s look at how Louisiana came to its current demise and what is being done to rectify the situation.
As sea level rose and fell over Louisiana in previous centuries, the Mississippi River carried large loads of sediment to the Gulf Coastal area from the core of the North American continent and deposited it on the rim of the Gulf of Mexico. Prior to the twentieth century, 5 million acres of land were compliments of the large influxes of mud from the river’s mammoth basin, extending from Montana to New York State. Organic matter from highly productive marine waters has been deeply buried under the whole state and far offshore, turning into petroleum. During other dry periods, large beds of salt were laid down through evaporation. Human engineering has temporarily tamed the river, most of the time, preventing it from dumping its valuable land building sediment all over the place. As a result, coastal Louisiana is sinking out of sight, starved of fresh material.
The Mississippi Delta was
In 1718, French settlers founded New Orleans on a natural ridge of high land on a bend of the Mississippi River. Flooding of the settlement was problematic. By 1812, the settlers had built miles of levees on the banks of the river. For the next two hundred years, the surrounding wetlands were drained to eliminate swamps filled with yellow fever carrying mosquitoes and to encourage economic development. Draining water from peaty soils encouraged subsidence. The land which was just inches above sea level to begin with steadily sank. In combat of this, higher and stronger levees were built, tightening the straight jacket already placed upon the Mississippi River. The massive flooding of 1928 brought further flood control systems implemented by the Army Corps of Engineers with Congressional blessing. By the 1950’s, dramatic rates of land loss in Louisiana’s coastal zone stretched across 300 miles from Texas to Mississippi and inland 50 miles. (Tibbetts)
Giving full credit to restricting the Mississippi River as the culprit for loss of wetlands is not accurate. The booming oil and gas exploration of the 1970’s and 1980’s merits a name on the marquee as well. The pipelines and canals used to transport the resources to the...