Magazine article The New Yorker

Great Barriers

Magazine article The New Yorker

Great Barriers

Article excerpt

After the Great Mississippi Flood, in 1927, which cost more than a thousand lives and a billion dollars in damages, a massive network of levees was constructed to tame the river's turbulent flow. The river had been constantly shifting to find the shortest distance to the ocean, thereby depositing a fan of rich sediment into the Gulf of Mexico. As Mike Tidwell reports in Bayou Farewell (Pantheon), these levees, along with other man-made intrusions, have accelerated erosion in the Delta. "The whole ragged sole of the Louisiana boot, an area the size of Connecticut--three million acres--is literally washing out to sea," Tidwell writes. As the marshland recedes, a distinct regional culture is going with it. On the Cajun bayou, Tidwell fishes near sunken cemeteries and hitches a ride with a shrimp-boat captain who steers the wheel with his toes. By airplane, Tidwell observes the death by drowning of some of the region's barrier islands, which serve equally as avian habitats and buffers for hurricanes. …

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