Day 7: Delta Restoration, Flyover, and the Port of New Orleans

New Orleans, LA

Building Barrier Islands, Diverting Mississippi Sediments, and Fighting Wetland Loss in the Delta

In a quintessential story of unintended consequences, keeping the Mississippi within its banks has had dire impacts on coastal Louisiana. The sediment “Big Muddy” carries from the interior of the country no longer gets deposited in the Mississippi Delta. Instead of fanning out and allowing all that silt to settle and form new land, the Mississippi now blasts its sediments out into the Gulf of Mexico where the most promising weapon against coastal erosion is lost at sea. Without the land- building services of the Mississippi, and combined with things like rising sea levels and countless oil and gas canals carved into the landscape, the Mississippi Delta has lost nearly 2,000 square miles of land since the 1930s – which is about the size of Delaware. The Restore the Mississippi Delta Coalition is a group of five non-profit organizations that hope to change this story. Together the groups coordinate efforts to promote science, raise money and take action when it comes to projects to halt wetland loss and help rebuild land in the quickly disappearing Delta. A current promising approach to coastal restoration is one that has been talked about for a long time – building channels that allow the Mississippi to deposit some of its sediments into the silt-starved waters beyond the levees. We met with members of Restore the Mississippi Delta Coalition, where the folks at Southwings graciously agreed to get us airborne for an unparalleled vantage point of the coast to see what’s being lost and, more important, what can still be saved.

From Cargo Barges to Cruise Ships, the Port of New Orleans Anchors U.S. to Global Economy

Since New Orleans was founded in 1718, one of the city’s biggest features was the port that connected the Mississippi River and thousands of miles of inland U.S. waterways to the Gulf of Mexico and other ports across the globe. The port was so important that, in 1803, it was a driving factor in Thomas Jefferson’s decision to green light the Louisiana Purchase. Today, that importance to the U.S. economy still holds true. The Port of New Orleans anchors one of the world’s busiest port systems at the mouth of the Mississippi and provides dockage for everything from deep-draft ocean tankers full of petroleum, to Mississippi-bound barges carrying fertilizer, to gigantic cruise ships stuffed with tourists bound for the crystal waters of the Caribbean. But in a river full of silt, keeping the 45- foot draft required to allow passage of those vessels is a full-time job, making dredging one of the most important undertakings on the Lower Mississippi. We met some folks involved in the Mississippi’s shipping economy and got out on one of the Port’s big fire boats to get a view of operations from sea level.