Lower Mississippi River Institute

April 24 - May 1, 2019

Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi & Louisiana


Ever since humans settled along its banks, the Mississippi River has been putting water where it’s not wanted. This is especially true along the lower section of the river where, built in response to the massive flood of 1927, an extensive levee system now constrains the flow of water draining 41 percent of the continental United States. While the levees don’t always hold the water back, they are successful enough to create rich farmland in the Mississippi floodplain and a highway for commercial shipping on the river itself. But they also prevent the river from delivering sediment to the Mississippi Delta, where the soil and silt of America once built wetlands and barrier islands along the Gulf Coast.


In late April of 2019, IJNR will lead a group of journalists from across the country on a weeklong, all-expenses paid learning expedition down the Lower Mississippi to get a first-hand look at some of the stories along its shores. Our trip will take us from small river towns to large global ports as we travel from St. Louis to New Orleans and explore topics like the state of our current flood control infrastructure, habitat restoration projects in the Mississippi floodplain and an ambitious new plan to divert some of the river’s flow so it can help rebuild the Louisiana coastline.

We will meet with local citizens, elected officials, business owners, resource managers, indigenous communities, farmers, fishermen and scientists as we get out into the field to explore (among other things):

  • The Mississippi’s long history of human development and attempts to keep the river on an “acceptable” course.

  • Big Muddy’s local and global economic impact as a main artery of commercial shipping.

  • The politics of flood control, how levees are managed and who gets the water when the river runs high.

  • Can plans for a new port in Cairo, Illinois reverse the fortunes of a struggling river town?

  • The fight for environmental justice in cancer alley - how Louisiana’s plantation past led to present conflicts between industrial interests and residential needs.

  • Partnerships between farmers, hunters and environmental organizations to restore habitat for migratory waterfowl in the Mississippi floodplain.

  • Lessons learned from old Army Corps of Engineers projects to keep the river running where we want it and new approaches and technologies for managing the flow.

  • The extensive loss of wetlands along the Louisiana coast and its impact on the people who live and work way out where the river ends.

  • Efforts by the Chitimacha tribe to restore the marsh that has sustained their people and culture for centuries.

  • Louisiana’s mid-Barataria and mid-Breton sediment diversion plans to provide new outlets for the river to deliver sediment to the Mississippi Delta. 

Meet the Fellows of the Lower Mississippi River Institute:

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This program is supported by grants from the Walton Family Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, and other foundations and individuals. 

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IJNR maintains editorial independence and control in all of its programming and decision-making.