Delta Dispatches: Engineering of the Mississippi River
On today’s show James F. Barnett Jr. joins the program to talk with Jacques & Simone about his fascinating book, Beyond Control: The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico. Beyond Control reveals the Mississippi as a waterway of change, unnaturally confined by ever-larger levees and control structures.
Our second guest is Alisha Renfro, Staff Scientist from the National Wildlife Federation, who stops by to talk with Simone & Jacques about the high Mississippi River and the systems in place to keep us protected.
Below is a transcript of this week’s Delta Dispatches Podcast. Listen to the full recording or subscribe to our feed in iTunes and Google Play.
Jacques: Hello. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s coast, its people, wildlife and jobs, and why restoring it matters. Hey, Simone, another big week for the coast.
Simone: Hey, Jacques.
Jacques: How are you?
Simone: Good. You want the good news, or you want the bad news?
Jacques: Well, I like to start with the good. The Master Plan, the Coastal Master Plan continues to advance in the legislature. It was approved by the House Transportation Committee and the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, moving it along in the process. Really, there’s one more step, which is a full House vote.
Simone: Yeah, full House vote. We expect that maybe Tuesday, Wednesday of next week. They’re really ramping up before they wind down. Not this Tuesday, but the next Tuesday, they’ll be out of session. They have a lot of work to do, but it’ll be fast and furious from here on out.
Jacques: Absolutely. We see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been a lot of work, so hopefully, we’ll have some good news for you next week.
Jacques: There’s also been some not-so-great news this week.
Simone: Yeah, certainly. Something that made the news again, it’s something that happened to us the past couple of years, and that is that the president has again tried to cut GOMESA revenue sharing out of his budget that comes out. That has definitely made the news, and mostly because this isn’t the first time we’ve had to deal with that.
Jacques: Right. A similar move was advanced under the Obama administration. It’s now being advanced under the Trump administration. Definitely, our groups put out a statement in support of GOMESA, and really urging our Congressional leaders to recognize how important of a source of funding it is to the state of Louisiana. The bright side is that our delegation is in lock step, the Governor is in lock step.
Simone: Definitely. Certainly.
Jacques: It really is locally a bipartisan issue. We just really need to maintain and secure as much funding as we can for this crisis.
Simone: Definitely. If you remember before, we’ve talked about different funding sources, and the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act actually was something that passed quite a long time ago, back in 2007. Now, and according to the law, phase two begins, and that’s really when we begin to see a significant amount of money, which is much needed to help fund our Coastal Restoration and Protection program. We’ve talked about this before, but BP was a one-time settlement that will go over 15 years. This is really our funding source that is enduring, if you will. That’s why it jeopardizes a lot of the coastal restoration and protection program. That’s our worry, is that we lose that longtime, steady stream of money that we need to help pay to implement that $50 billion, 50-year master plan.
Jacques: Another important aspect is that Louisiana voters have constitutionally dedicated that money to go to coastal restoration and protection.
Simone: Sure. Absolutely. Yes. Sure. Louisiana put their money where their mouth is, and before they even passed GOMESA in Congress, there was a Constitutional amendment passed here in Louisiana on one of the highest approval rates at the time to pass, that we would dedicate all GOMESA funds to our coastal trust fund. That’s a really important show that Louisiana does mean business when it comes to coastal.
Jacques: Right. Obviously, we’re going to be closely following this story. We’re probably going to be pretty vocal on it. I know there are some hearings coming up in the weeks ahead, so we’ll keep you posted on that. Today, we’re talking about some other news items, which is mainly the high Mississippi river.
Simone: The river is high.
Jacques: The river is high. I think it’s expected to crest soon, but we thought this was a good opportunity to talk about the restoration story.
Jacques: Often, we see, with the high river, you see opportunities as well for restoration, so we’re going to have Alisha Renfro, who’s been on before, she’s a staff scientist with National Wildlife Federation, to talk about that, and how it relates to the high river. First up, we have a really special guest with us that I’m excited to have. He is the author of a new book that provides a really fascinating account of the history of engineering along the Lower Mississippi River, and the impacts that that engineering has had. His name is James F. Barnett Jr. The book is Beyond Control: The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico.
James is also the author of the Natchez Indians: A History to 1735, and Mississippi’s American Indians, all published by University Press of Mississippi. His work has appeared in the Journal of Mississippi History, Mississippi Archeology, and Southern Quarterly. He’s retired as director of the Historic Properties Division with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and lives in the beautiful town of Natchez, Mississippi. Welcome to the show, James.
James: Thank you for having me on.
Jacques: Yeah. It’s really wonderful to have you on. I read your book. It was very enjoyable, fascinating, and informative. As I mentioned, it’s a really great overview of some of the modern, I’d say, engineering changes that have been done along the Lower Mississippi River, but it’s also really a page-turner. It’s written in a way that’s interesting, even if you’re not an engineer or a hydrologist. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking to learn about that history. Before we dive into the book, I’m just curious. What made you want to explore this topic?
James: Well, probably about 30 years ago, I first saw the Control Structures at Old River, the place on the Mississippi River where the US Army Corps of Engineers has their control complex, about 40 miles south of Natchez. I was just stunned by these huge, dam-like structures, literally out in the middle of nowhere. It took me a few years to wonder about it, but I finally got in touch with the Corps of Engineers Office of History in Alexandria, Virginia, and they got me started on reading and research.
Simone: James, we’re going to adopt you as a Louisiana kid by the end of this program. This is Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat. When we are here in New Orleans, people talk about the river a little bit, but they don’t really seem to have the daily recognition of what really is passing by their doorstep. Why do you think that is?
James: That’s true. It is true in Natchez as well as New Orleans. I grew up near Memphis, Tennessee, and it’s the same there. I think the reason is because the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi River Commission have done such an excellent job of keeping the Mississippi River and its historic channel. This is a meandering, alluvial stream by nature, and for generations now, we have sort of been lulled into this illusion that we have this eternal, flowing lake flowing by our communities out there.
Jacques: James, I want to talk a little bit about that, that the Mississippi River that we know today is not the same Mississippi River that’s existed over time. Can you talk a little bit about the more recent history, and some of the major changes that have occurred to make it what it is today, and maybe what it has been in the past?
James: The main changes that have occurred on the river have taken place in the last 300 years, and these have been of course building levees, revetments, doing cutoffs to meander bends, and attempting to manage this river the way that we would like for it to be managed, and especially with the establishment of the Corps of Engineers Control Structures at Old River. In its natural state, the Mississippi would not be a calm, friendly stream that we think of it today.
Jacques: You start off the book with a really nail-biting account of a night in April 1973. You set the stage with people partying on Bourbon Street and listening to Stevie Wonder at the Municipal Auditorium.
Simone: That’s my kind of night.
Jacques: Simone’s kind of Saturday night. Little did they know there were some pretty dramatic events happening upriver. Can you tell us a little bit about that night and its significance?
James: That was a Saturday night, April 14, 1973. This was at the height of the great 1973 flood, which, by the way, today is thought of as the second biggest flood in the Mississippi River’s history, coming after the 1928, I mean, 1927 flood. The 1973 flood was that night chewing away at the Corps of Engineers’ main control structure called the Low Sill, up at Old River, the Old River complex there. This was the Low Sill’s first test in a major flood. It had been built, finished in about 1961 there, and this was the first test of it. It was really a miracle that night, just by luck, that the control structure did not fail. It held.
Simone: We have to go to a break right now, but when we get back from the break, we want to talk a little bit more about that Old River Control Structure, and we want to talk a little bit more about what that is for people who haven’t seen it. Like you said, it took you awhile to get down to it. After the break, we’ll come back with the author James Barnett, Beyond Control: The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico. We’ll be back with you at Delta Dispatches in just a minute.
Simone: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. This is Simone Maloz. We’re here every Thursday on 990 WGSO, and online through our new podcast. Check out the Restore or Retreat website, or the Restore Mississippi River Delta Facebook page for more details. We have with us a very important author, James Barnett, of Beyond Control: The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico. We were just talking a little bit about how the Mississippi River ticks, but one of the things that you brought up was Old River Control Structure. Amazingly, I’ve never been there.
Jacques: I have not either.
Simone: One time, I heard that I think there’s a hydro plant, or they have some hydro power, just very, very fascinating. Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about what Old River Control Structure is, what that area means, what that means for the Red River, the Mississippi River, Atchafalaya Rivers. Just tell us more about it.
James: Sure. I’ll try to cover most of that. The Old River Control Structures, in 1973, the significance for New Orleans was tremendous, because when the Corps of Engineers installed the control structures there, it began installing them in the late 1950s, they had become convinced that the Mississippi River was changing its channel from its historic channel down to New Orleans to a new channel down through the Atchafalaya Basin, following the Atchafalaya River. The control structures were put there to prevent that from happening.
For New Orleans, the scenario would not be good if the Mississippi River were to change its channel there. Even a partial change down the Atchafalaya, increasing the amount currently going down the Atchafalaya, would be hard for New Orleans, because it’s the force of the Mississippi River’s current that keeps the Gulf of Mexico’s salt water out of New Orleans, and out of the city’s fresh water pumps that get the city’s fresh water from the Mississippi River. Without accessed fresh water, New Orleans would be in a dire situation.
Jacques: Right. We often talk a lot about obviously leveraging the Mississippi River for restoration, both in terms of building, maintaining land, to keep that buffer, certainly for storm surge, and to keep the salt water out. We’ve obviously, through our land loss crisis, experiencing tremendous salt water intrusion and other factors. I want to talk a little bit about the sediment load in the river. In your book, you mention that, when we first started measuring sediment in the river, it was particularly high. Was that sediment load always that high, or has it fluctuated?
James: The sediment load has changed. Today, the estimate that is usually given is that about 150 million tons of sediment come down the Mississippi River every year. The sediment, it’s as important to manage the sediment in the river as it is to manage the water that’s moving the sediment along. In the past, there’s evidence that during the 19th century, when there was a lot of land clearing and farming going on throughout the Mississippi River Drainage Basin, that a tremendous amount of sediment was washed from all this land clearing into the tributaries and on into the Mississippi River’s system. Since the 1927 flood, the Corps of Engineers’ strategy to control the river, which includes reservoirs and levees and so on, blocks a lot of sediment that would normally get into the river, but there’s still quite a bit that moves through the channel.
Jacques: Right. I know you mention it briefly at the end of the book that some experts, and scientists, and engineers are looking at sediment diversions as a way to build and maintain land. Have you studied that at all, or do you have any thoughts there?
James: I’m not an engineer, and I’ve studied it from a historian’s standpoint. Just basically, the sediment in the Mississippi River can be divided into three groups. The finest particles, the particle that would just float in water, is clay. If you take a little ball of clay and drop it into a glass of water, it will just float there. A little bit heavier particles are known as silt, and then the heaviest are called sand there. What makes it down now to past New Orleans and on out, pluming into the Gulf of Mexico, is the very finest-grained, the clay, material. That stays in the current all the way down to the end. The rest of it, the silts and sands, for the most part, settle out into the channel before they get down to your area there.
As far as building the coast back up again, I know that I, in my research, I came across some articles about trying to divert part of the Mississippi River into those area to carry sediment to areas where it’s needed there. I think that the Corps of Engineers’ experiences at Old River could be instructive in really how you get the sediment that counts, the silts and the sands, into the areas where you need them to go.
Simone: Yeah. That’s very important to us. We are believers that we need to harness the power of the Mississippi River to help us rebuilt coastal Louisiana. That’s where we started, and certainly, that’s where we should end up. Let’s talk about governance for a little bit. Some of us that worked on coastal for a long time understand that it’s the Mississippi Rivers and Tributaries program, or MR and T, and that’s really governed by something called the Mississippi River Commission, correct?
Simone: Tell us a little bit about the commission. We have some hometown ties here. I previously knew some of the civilian members appointed to that board, but why don’t you tell us a little bit about the commission, its origin, and its importance?
James: Well, briefly, the Mississippi River Commission was established after the Civil War, when the federal government accepted the responsibility of keeping the Mississippi River a navigable stream all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico, and taking that burden off of the states down along the river there. The Mississippi River Commission was formed to manage that. The commission, from its beginnings, was a mixture of civilian and military people, and that was important at the time to not have the Mississippi River completely under military control or completely under civilian control. The relationship with the Corps of Engineers has been very stable over the years, with the Mississippi River Commission serving as the policy and planning body, and the Corps of Engineers carrying out the research, construction, and maintenance that the Mississippi River Commission.
Simone: Sure. They still come. I think they still come twice a year. They come on a high river trip, which was a couple of weeks back. They come on a low river inspection tour. Mr. Clifford Smith from HOUMA was a presidential appointee for so, so long, and then we have a PhD professor from UNO that now serves on the commission, so we definitely have some ties there, and Coastal Louisiana understand that important appointment to that commission. James, would you mind holding on just a little bit longer, through one more break? We have a couple of things that we want to cover with you. It’s too important, and we want to keep you on for a little while. Would that be okay?
James: I’ll be glad too.
Simone: Great. Great. Join us in just a bit for Delta Dispatches.
Jacques: And we’re back. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches on WGSO 990AM. This is Jacques Hebert, and we’re really honored to have James F. Barnett Jr., the author of a new book out, Beyond Control: The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico. James, I know in the book you mention this, and I know you’ve written extensively on this topic in other books, but in terms of living with the river, you talk a lot about Native American populations that lived with the river rather than against it. Tell us a little bit about that aspect of the book, and what lessons that can teach us about managing future threats we may face.
James: Okay. The archeological work done along the Mississippi River Valley, the lower valley, indicates that people have been living in close proximity to the Mississippi River as a live, meandering, alluvial stream for about 10,000, 12,000 years, something like that. The people adapted themselves to the river, and used it for a transportation system, using mainly wooden dugout canoes to go wherever they wanted to throughout the river system and its many of its and tributaries. The Indians knew where they could live and where they shouldn’t live, and they stayed away from the active channel. They expected the annual floods. In late prehistoric times, when farming was being practiced by the Indians, they expected the annual floods to flood their fields and rejuvenate with rich, new soil the fields there. In other words, they let the river be the river.
In our situation, we have been holding the river back now for about 300 years. What we have going on really is an arms race. The riverbed is rising because of the deposition of sediment. The levees have to be built higher. The floods today are not any bigger than they were in the past. We’ve never had one as big as the 1927 flood. The floods seem to be getting higher because of this rise in the riverbed and the need for higher levees. I ask in the book, what are our levees going to look like in a thousand years or in a hundred years?
Jacques: Great. It is so fascinating, and I wish we could get to all of the important topics that you raise in the book, but I highly encourage people to go out to their bookstore and pick up a copy. I did want to ask, well, we do like to keep it fun here on Delta Dispatches, so we have to ask our guests a fun question. I know you’re in Natchez and we’re in New Orleans, so let’s exclude those two options, but other than those two cities, what is your favorite Mississippi River town or city?
James: It would probably have to be Memphis, Tennessee. I was born and raised in northeast Arkansas, and have wonderful memories of going to Memphis as a child, and so that’s a place I think about a lot.
Jacques: Good barbecue?
James: Yeah, yeah.
Jacques: I’ve never been, but I’ll look forward to going.
Simone: We’ll take a road trip.
Jacques: One final question. You highlight some pretty interesting characters in your book. Two of them are well known, Captain Henry Miller Shreve, and then Hans Albert Einstein, so the son of Albert Einstein. Tell us a little bit about these men and their impact on the river.
James: Shreve of course was a legend, a 19th century legend. He was bigger than life, like a lot of the people, a lot of the characters from that time period. He accomplished a lot in his lifetime, and one of his main accomplishments was the removal of the Red River Raft, the big log jam that clogged up the Red River for a long time. He developed a special kind of boat called a snag boat to do that work for him. Of course, Shreve became involved at Old River because he cut off the channel there, the channel that had formed there, that really sort of began or encouraged the Mississippi River’s drift into the Atchafalaya Basin.
Hans Albert Einstein was a fascinating person. He was at the top of his field in the movement of sediment in streams. There wasn’t really anybody better than him, a couple of people equal to him in that field of engineering. The Corps of Engineers called upon him a lot to come from his base at the University of California at Berkeley to the Mississippi Valley. He was called in to help the Corps of Engineers develop the Old River Control Structures in the late 1950s, so that not just water but sediment could also be moved through those structures. He’s a fascinating individual, just as his father was.
Jacques: One important aspect that I think a lot of people don’t realize about, well, not so much the Mississippi River, but the Atchafalaya River. You posture in the book that there is a possibility that the Mississippi River could shift back to the Atchafalaya River. You talk about how important Old River Control Structure is to maintaining the current flow, but the Atchafalaya River that we know today is not the Atchafalaya River of the past, is that correct?
James: The Atchafalaya River originally was one and the same with the Red River. If you go back far enough into time, the Red River flowed down through the Atchafalaya Basin and did not intersect with the Mississippi River until the Mississippi River created a meander bend that moved out to the west from the Mississippi River’s channel and intercepted the Red River out there. You had a situation, when the first European explorers got to this area and began to travel the river, where the Red River flowed into the Mississippi River at the top of this big Meander Bend, and then a mile or two to the south of that … The Mississippi wasn’t able to take the entire Red River flow, so to the south of that, a portion of the combined Red and Mississippi flowed out down through the Atchafalaya Basin there. That portion is what began to grow and necessitated eventually the control structures.
Jacques: I think we hear a lot about levees as a major part of the Mississippi River and Tributary system. Anytime there’s a high river event, of course, folks in New Orleans and elsewhere think about the Bonnet Carré Spillway. We’re going to have a staff scientist on later to talk about the Bonnet Carré, and it’s opening, and that sort of thing. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of floodways? So, whether it’s the Atchafalaya, Morganza Floodways, or the Bonnet Carré Spillway, why were they created, and what were some of the consequences of that?
James: The floodways were created after the 1927 flood. Up to 1927, the Mississippi River Commission and the Corps of Engineers felt like the levees that they had built could contain the river, that there was no need for any other type of flood control. The 1927 flood proved that wrong. The river crevassed in a number of places, and so after the 1927 flood, the 1927, 1928 Flood Control Act included lots of other ways to control the river, including floodways, which would be like controlled crevasses, where you could open up the banks of the river at some point, when a flood is really getting dangerous, and let a lot of water out of the main channel down into, through a floodway. That’s what the Atchafalaya Floodway does. It’s one of the largest floodways in the word. That’s also what the Bonnet Carré Spillway does. It lets water out and takes the pressure off of New Orleans.
Jacques: Right. One final question for you, and I have to ask, because it’s a perfect segue into our next segment, to talk about some of the scientific aspects of the river, but in the book, you give a helpful overview and definition of some terms that are often thrown around. I throw them around without sometimes fully understanding what they mean. Can you explain what’s in your glossary in terms of what exactly does cubic feet per second mean, and what is, essentially, when we say “river stage” or “river gauge,” what does that mean?
James: Okay. Cubic feet per second is the way that the Corps of Engineers measures the discharge or the flow of the Mississippi River. Once you get used to it, the numbers that it entails, it’s a very convenient way to keep up with how much water is flowing down the river. What that means is that, if you stand on a given point on the Mississippi River and look out across the river, a certain number of cubic feet of water are passing you every second.
For example, if you have a flow of one million cubic feet per second, which is not much above what we’ve got right now with the river rising out there, there are a million cubic feet per second. I use an example of an 18-wheeler that can carry in its cargo part there about 4,000 cubic feet, 4,000 square feet, or cubic feet, of space. If you have a million cubic feet per second going by on the river, you’re having 250 trucks worth of water passing you every second out there. That’s how that works. I use it because it’s the standard terminology used by the Corps of Engineers.
Simone: Yeah. That’s so helpful. I think you said it exactly right. We say cfs like it’s no big deal, especially when we talk about diversions. That’s a helpful way to relate it. We always talk about how the river is about 10,000 cfs, and so it’s good to connect those. Jacques, why don’t you tell everybody where you can get the book?
Jacques: Well, I bought the book. I know it’s selling at Lemuria Books and all over.
Simone: You want us to go to Jackson?
Jacques: No. Mr. Barnett, where can we get the book? Because it is a fascinating read, and there’s a lot that we didn’t get to.
James: Well, I encourage people to shop their local, family-run bookstores. If you don’t have access to something like that, the book is available on Amazon, and it’s in a lot of bookstores. It should be easily available.
Jacques: Great. Well, thank you so much for being on. I really appreciate it. As a reminder, please go out and get Beyond Control: The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico by James F. Barnett Jr. Thanks again, and I really appreciate your being a guest.
James: Nice to talk to you too.
Simone: Back on with Alisha Renfro after the break. Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. This is Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat.
Jacques: This is Jacques Hebert with National Audubon Society.
Simone: We’re here every Thursday on 990 WGSO and online through our new podcast. We have an old friend back with us. Alisha, welcome back.
Simone: We heard you during the commercial break. You’re I think one of our first repeat guests, right?
Alisha: I know. I noticed there was me, Simone, and [crosstalk 00:34:46] were doing the ads.
Simone: Yeah, right. Coincidence? I think not.
Alisha: And Don Cheadle.
Simone: And Don Cheadle, right. Yes. He’s not here with us.
Jacques: Alisha, I think you were our inaugural guest, in fact.
Simone: Yes. Yes.
Alisha: Was I? Oh my gosh.
Simone: Welcome back. Well, we wanted to bring you back in. We wanted to talk about the Mississippi River. It’s pretty high. Tell us a little bit about what that means. Has it crested yet? What does that mean? When? What level? Tell us our science stuff, Alisha.
Alisha: Okay. Well, if anybody’s been brave enough to take a peek over the levee anytime recently, you’ll notice that the river is quite high at this point. Right now, moving past New Orleans is about a million cubic feet per second of water.
Simone: We just learned what that was, yes.
Alisha: I know. I heard that. That’s amazing.
Alisha: That’s amazing. I put it in terms of Niagara Falls. His is probably actually better, but mine is about 11 Niagara Falls every second.
Simone: Oh, very, very good way to explain that.
Simone: Alisha, people think, “High river, are they opening the Bonnet Carré?” I heard you took a little joyride over there.
Alisha: I did. Yeah. I took the day off, so whenever the Bonnet Carré Spillway is open, that’s my idea of a good time.
Simone: That was work.
Alisha: I had a friend in town. I wanted to show her the Bonnet Carré. Yeah. At this point, the Bonnet Carré, it doesn’t look like they’re going to open it. The river is going to top out probably about 16-and-a-half feet here in New Orleans, and about 17 feet is when they open the Bonnet Carré Spillway. However, because of the design of the spillway, water starts to leak through when it gets kind of high, so while they haven’t opened it, there is a lot of water that’s actually gushing through there. There were a lot of people out there fishing the other day.
Simone: Yeah. Alisha, this is something that it is just more familiar in the past couple of years because they’ve opened it more so in the past couple years. I think they … Tell us the last time they opened it, and then they opened it even before that, just a few years before. Then tell us exactly what that means by “opening it.”
Alisha: Okay. The Bonnet Carré Spillway was constructed after the ’27 flood. It took them a couple of years to open it. Since about 1932 or so, when they finished constructing it, it’s opened around 11 times I think, just about 11 times. Now, previously, the most recent opening was actually January of last year, in 2016. They opened it for a short period of time, and about 200,000 cubic feet per second flowed out of it. Before that, it was in the 2011 flood, that big flood we had a few years ago, they opened that. What that means is this structure is 350 bays. It has these wooden sticks.
Simone: Old school, huh?
Alisha: Yeah, old, old school. They actually have to go in with a … They have this little crane that they use, and they pull these out one by one to open up the bays. The Corps, actually, they opened up a couple of bays last week, just to practice, because you got to make sure you can do it when push comes to shove.
Jacques: It’s interesting. In Mr. Barnett’s book, he talks about the 1927 flood, the 1928 Flood Act, and how quickly after that they constructed the Bonnet Carré Spillway. It’s surprising to think that the Corps could move that quickly.
Simone: Yeah. We had a Governor’s Advisory Commission, Alisha, I think you were there. We went to the structure building itself, and we heard a little bit about it. It was fascinating to hear how quickly and how expensive it was at the time. Again, just like a post-Katrina, it needed to get done, and it got done.
Alisha: It was on-the-fly. They did lots of things they’d never done before, and they figured out how to do them in the moment. It’s a 90-year-old structure at this point. They did a good job. Good job, Army Corps.
Jacques: It’s stood the test of time, let’s hope. Alisha, I want to talk a little bit, we often see these awesome images when the river is at a high peak, or when they open the Bonnet Carré Spillway, sediment pouring out into Lake Pontchartrain, obviously out of the Bird’s Foot Delta. Can you tell us a little bit about the implications for restoration that a high river has? Yeah. I know you wrote a really great blog that’s on our Delta Dispatches Blog, but tell our listeners a little bit about that.
Alisha: Yeah. Whenever we have a high river event down here in southeastern Louisiana, it means there’s been a lot of rainfall other places, usually farther up the basin, typically in the Missouri and Ohio River Valleys, which is the case this time. Along with that rainfall is also sediment that’s being washed off the land. When you have the river rising, you also have a lot of sediment being transported with the water, particularly as the river starts to rise. After it’s peaked and goes down, it carries a little less sediment. As the river is rising and carrying all this sediment, that’s really the opportunity we have to build and maintain the wetlands that we currently have.
You see the satellite images, and most of the time, right now the weathers aren’t really cooperating, there’s a lot of cloud cover, but you can start to see that brown, muddy water coming out of the Bird’s Foot Delta and out of the Atchafalaya. Then when they open the Bonnet Carré or when it leaks you see that muddy water going into Lake Pontchartrain. If you have a project like a sediment diversion farther downriver, you can open it up during this time, where there’s a lot of that sediment available, to get that sediment out of the river and into those wetlands. An added bonus, it also builds a little redundancy into your flood protection system. You’re helping lower the water that’s against the levees, so extra, extra super bonus.
Jacques: Yeah. Alisha, on our website, we have a quote by you, I think it might have been in a news article or blog post, but it says, “To restore the health and vitality of the Mississippi River Delta and coastal Louisiana, not only now, but for years to come, it is vital that all of the sediment is treated like the precious resource it is, and every effort is made to maximize its capture for coastal restoration.” We couldn’t agree more.
Simone: Let’s put that on a bumper sticker.
Alisha: Yeah. I know. It’s going to need some editing.
Simone: Alisha, we love how you help us digest a lot of this science for us. We encourage you to really check out the Delta Dispatches blog, with the cute name, April Showers Bring May Flows.
Jacques: We are almost out of time, but we have to ask, Alisha, I heard you went on a culinary tour recently with a friend. What was the best restaurant you went to?
Alisha: You know what? I hate to play favorites with my New Orleans restaurants, but this time around, Peche.
Jacques: I love Peche. Chef Ryan Prewitt has done a lot to raise awareness to restoration.
Simone: Yeah. Take him down to Fourchon with us a couple of weeks ago, we had a great time, great time on the water. Alisha, we love having you on. Thanks for being with us. What’s your Twitter handle?
Simone: Yay. Thank you, Alisha, for coming on. This has been the end of an exciting week, Jacques.
Jacques: Yeah. Great week. A lot of news. Simone, you’re …
Simone: I’m out next week.
Jacques: You’re out next week.
Simone: I’m out, hopefully celebrating the passage of the Master Plan.
Jacques: Yeah. We’ll update you, but for now, you can go on our website, MississippiRiverDelta.org/DeltaDispatches. Thanks for another great show.
Simone: See you soon.