Wax Lake Delta Builds Land for 50 Years

10.12.2023 | In Press Releases

Conservation Groups Celebrate Half-Century of Success near Morgan City

(Morgan City, LA, October 12, 2023) – For 50 years, Wax Lake Delta near Morgan City has been building large amounts of new wetlands, a sign of hope for the future of the Mississippi River Delta, one of America’s most ecologically and economically important landscapes – and one its most imperiled.  

The reason: The Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers are connected to those wetlands, constantly delivering fresh water, nutrients and land-building sediment. This land growth stands in stark contrast to most other places along Louisiana’s coast, where about 2,000 square miles of wetlands have been converted into open water in less than a century.   

In 1973, a flood began depositing fresh water and sediment through a dredged channel from the Atchafalaya River into Wax Lake, creating the delta that now builds about 700 acres of new wetlands every year, thanks to the constant flow from the river. While almost every other basin in Louisiana is losing land rapidly, at a rate of a football field-sized swath of land every 100 minutes, the Atchafalaya Basin is experiencing a net land gain, with more than six square miles (4,000 acres) of new wetlands over the past several decades.  

“This is a moment to celebrate, a half-century-long record of creating new land and healthy, thriving habitat,” said Simone Maloz, Campaign Director of Restore the Mississippi River Delta, a coalition of environmental groups comprised of the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Pontchartrain Conservancy. “If you look at the state’s maps showing land loss over time, there’s a lot of red to indicate what has vanished. Wax Lake Delta is one of the only places where there are giant patches of green, showing tremendous gain against the odds.” 

Wax Lake Delta is the byproduct of an outlet created in 1942 by the Army Corps of Engineers to divert the Atchafalaya River in an effort to prevent flooding in Morgan City. It was never intended to build land. But by 1973, decades’ worth of sand and fine silt had begun to accumulate at the outlet’s mouth. Before long, channelization occurred, and lobes of new land began to arise in what had been open water. Wax Lake Delta was born. The growing land provides critical wildlife habitat and essential storm protection for communities like Franklin and Morgan City. 

“This shows us what our rivers can do when we reconnect them to wetlands that have been starving and subsiding for nearly a century,” Maloz said. “The Wax Lake Delta is a living laboratory for the flora and fauna that make our coast unique – the very picture of healthy, thriving wetland habitat.  

“We can recreate the success we’ve seen at the Wax Lake Delta in other areas along our coast, and it’s both clear and critical that we must use the Mississippi River to do it.”  

Louisiana recently broke ground on a large-scale restoration project, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, on the west bank of Plaquemines Parish near Myrtle Grove. The diversion, the largest habitat restoration project in U.S. history, will mimic the land-building process that is creating new wetlands at Wax Lake Delta. Restore the Mississippi River Delta strongly supports the Mid-Barataria project, as do most voters statewide and nearly all scientists studying Louisiana’s land loss. The project is expected to take up to five years to complete.

Contact: Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, schatzele@nwf.org, 225.253.9781 

About Restore the Mississippi River Delta: 

Restore the Mississippi River Delta is working to secure a just, climate-resilient coast where people and nature thrive. As our region faces the crisis of land loss and climate change, we seek to advance an equitable, safer and flourishing coast for Louisiana’s communities, ecosystems and economy. Composed of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense FundNational Audubon Society, the National Wildlife FederationCoalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Pontchartrain Conservancy, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States.