Jeffrey A. Nittrouer
You may remember that during last year’s epic Mississippi River flooding, the Army Corps of Engineers opened spillways upriver of New Orleans and Baton Rouge to divert some water away from the cities. One of those spillways was the Bonnet Carré, built in the early 1930’s to protect New Orleans from high water.
When most of its bays were opened last May, the Bonnet Carré redirected 10 to 20 percent of the Mississippi’s floodwater out of the river and into Lake Pontchartrain.
While the diversion mitigated the havoc created by the flood, it also provided a few scientists with an opportunity to do some research on land restoration in the Mississippi Delta as the Bonnet Carré’s floodwater dried out in subsequent months and left behind huge dunes of sand. Their findings, published this week in a Nature Geoscience letter, indicate that well-placed floodwater diversions can add significant amounts of land to the disappearing delta.
Our study “demonstrates that there’s a strong feasibility or potential to build new landscape in Louisiana,” said Jeffrey A. Nittrouer, a geologist at the University of Illinois and the lead author of the letter. He said the recent use of the Bonnet Carré spillway showed that by choosing the right place to build a diversion in the Mississippi and opening it at the right time, planners could build up a substantial amount of sediment in the delta.
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