The Once and Future Delta

Part of the Water: H2O = Life exhibition.

Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion Structure
USACE New Orleans District

Until recently, most efforts to control land loss and wetland destruction in the Mississippi River Delta were small in scope or inadequately funded and, as a result, had little impact. But in 2005 Hurricane Katrina got everyone's attention. The sheer devastation wrought by the storm has forced politicians and scientists to consider large-scale projects to preserve the delta-from rebuilding barrier islands to controlling pollution to diverting fresh water and sediments back into wetland floodplains. Experts now estimate that if major progress is not made within the next decade, the region may never recover.

(Re)building the Land

Wine Island 2001
USACE New Orleans District

Since 1992, the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion structure has redirected fresh water from the Mississippi River to wetlands in Breton Sound near New Orleans. Sediments and nutrients in the water help reverse land loss in the area and restore former ecological conditions. Today, Breton Sound is recovering from hurricane damage: Freshwater plants have increased seven-fold and oyster and largemouth bass populations, among other species, are flourishing.

Wine Island, 1991
USACE New Orleans District

Protecting the Coast

Small barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico slow storms as they approach the coastline, but most of these speed bumps have eroded away, leaving the delta vulnerable to storms. Projects to rebuild entire islands in the Gulf are under way. Vegetation returned to an eroded Wine Island that was first ringed by stones and then filled with sediments dredged from the ocean bottom.