Saving Louisiana? The Battle for Coastal Wetlands

Saving Louisiana? The Battle for Coastal Wetlands

Saving Louisiana? The Battle for Coastal Wetlands

Saving Louisiana? The Battle for Coastal Wetlands


Salt water is inundating coastal Louisiana, transforming precious wetlands into backwaters of the Gulf of Mexico. Science may hold the key to reversing the problem. But what will the cost be? And will the plan work? These are the quandaries reported in Saving Louisiana? The Battle for Coastal Wetlands.

In what is unquestionably the most ambitious ecosystem management and restoration program ever proposed, calls have been made to save the Louisiana coast, with a price tag of fourteen billion dollars. And how can science contribute to the rescue?

From the Mississippi River's Old River Control Structure to the pipeline canals of the Gulf's oil fields to the capitol in Baton Rouge, Saving Louisiana? follows scientists, conservationists, and politicians, as they persistently ask the same question: Can Louisiana's coastline be saved? For some experts, technical uncertainty impedes progress. For others, bureaucracy and special interests block what they see as the right path. Still others believe that the real challenge lies in determining what society really wants, so that ecosystem restoration becomes a balance of dollars against choices.

Saving Louisiana? builds a story of doubt and discord that captures the technical and human drama of ecosystem restoration and management. Anyone intrigued by the big ecosystem restoration projects underway in the Florida Everglades, the Chesapeake Bay, the Puget Sound, and elsewhere will find this account of Louisiana's morass compelling and cautionary.

Streever says science alone cannot save Louisiana's wetlands without attention to and appreciation of the many proposals and controversies afloat on the state's marshes and bayous.

Bill Streever is a research biologist in Eagle River, Alaska, and was formerly at the Waterways Experiment Station (Wetlands Branch) in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He is the author of Bringing Back the Wetlands (1999), and his work has appeared in such periodicals as Wetlands, Journal of Environmental Management, Estuaries, and American Midland Naturalist.


The Old River Control Structure, a series of steel gates mounted in the Mississippi River levee 170 miles upstream from New Orleans, very nearly failed in 1973. The map of America almost changed. If the structure had failed, the lower end of the Mississippi River would have swung to the west, following the course of the Atchafalaya River. Rather than flowing past Baton Rouge and New Orleans to discharge through the Bird’s Foot Delta into deep Gulf of Mexico water, a distance of 315 miles, the longest river in North America would have discharged into the shallows of Atchafalaya Bay, only 142 miles away, down a steeper gradient to sea level. If the Old River Control Structure had failed, colossal flows would have moved down the Atchafalaya River, creating ten-story-deep scour holes that would have migrated along the riverbed, undermining bridge pilings. The Interstate 10 bridge would have collapsed. The U.S. Highway 190 bridge would have collapsed. Scouring would have exposed gas and oil pipelines buried beneath the bed of the Atchafalaya River, and, unsupported, they would have shivered in the flow and then, after some time, ruptured from the continuous stress. Gas supplies as far away as Massachusetts and Rhode Island would have been interrupted. Floodwaters would have isolated and then overcome Houma, Raceland, and Thibodaux. Morgan City would have been drowned, too, and then buried-

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