Louisiana's land-loss crisis
March 26, 2019 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Since the nineteen-thirties, Louisiana has shrunk by more than two thousand square miles. If Delaware or Rhode Island had lost that much territory, the U.S. would have only 49 states.

Here, in black and white, was Louisiana’s land-loss dilemma. Had the river been left to its own devices, a super-wet spring like that of 2011 would have sent the Mississippi and its distributaries surging over their banks. The floodwaters would have wreaked havoc, but they would have spread tens of millions of tons of sand and clay across thousands of square miles of countryside. The new sediment would have formed a fresh layer of soil and, in this way, countered subsidence.

Thanks to the intervention of the engineers, there had been no spillover, no havoc, and hence no land-building. The future of southern Louisiana had, instead, washed out to sea.
posted by hydra77 (11 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Previously, and better-previously

Once upon a time, dinosaurs walked the earth, and the Mississippi river entered the Gulf of Mexico just north of Cairo, Illinois. Now, you might notice that there is an awful lot of river now between Cairo and the tip of Louisiana. The river filled in the entire middle of the country. We think of rivers as eroding land away, and they do. But that land goes somewhere, and the place that land went is Louisiana, and Mississippi, and parts of Missouri and Arkansas and Tennessee. It still goes to Louisiana now, but it doesn't go to the places where Louisiana is--it goes to where it's going to be.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:25 PM on March 26, 2019 [12 favorites]

One house we passed had been raised to a particularly vertiginous height; Simoneaux estimated that its pilings were thirty feet tall.

I just can't comprehend preparing for that amount of water potentially under the house. I guess better than not preparing but thirty feet??
posted by kitten magic at 5:33 PM on March 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

It used to be that beach houses on Galveston started about 10 feet off the ground, you had a nice patch of shade under them to park the cars and for showers and barbecues. After Ike, on the other side of Galveston Bay on Bolivar, newly built houses have two empty "floors" under them. They are weird looking, like the pencil high rises in NYC. I guess the people in them are getting good exercise.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:09 PM on March 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

Man, that's hard to read with the flood prediction for the whole Mississippi basin in the news.
posted by clew at 6:14 PM on March 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also: Louisiana Loses Its Boot.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 5:37 PM on March 26

Please don't. please don't read this boot article. It's so wrong! so wrong. the author interviewed me for two hours and ignored everything I said. He ignores every GIS expert and cartographer he interviews in this piece, it's an abomination. It's so sad. I work in environmental education, and i have spent thousands of hours of my life undoing the damage of this article. It's weird, but I have nightmares about this article. Can I ask you to please delete this link?

The Delta is our home, the wetlands are not the end of the world, the wetlands are not absent or defunct or wastelands! but the beginning of the water, and we will be working the interface of land and water long after anarctica plunges into the ocean, because that ecological interface is a source of great abundance of life. The wetlands produce enormous value, and the wetlands are higher in elevation than the areas in his stupid map. He wants to get rid of the Atchafalaya Basin? It's not even wrong, this article, it's so bad. It hurts. this guy is a food writer, and it shows.

Data-Driven DJ has a much better map, based on USGS. There's even a song!

Propublica, I think, has done a wonderful set of investigations on this issue, of the Mississippi River Delta, a unique landform on the planet. Loss, and Restoration. Their maps are wonderful.

Glossed over, and please don't forget, the oil and gas rush of the United States Destroyed Louisiana.

Even now, we are the oil colony of the United States, and the companies, Shell, Chevron, etc, say that they destroyed Louisiana under war power orders, and so are exempt from fixing their part of the problem. To give us our land back, it would total ~$40-80 billion, now that Louisiana has a very competent science and engineering plan that can implement ecological restoration projects.

If you want a Green New Deal, the Governor of the state of Louisiana is trying to reclaim these lands that Chevron and all the rest owe us. If you though climate denial was the first denial campaign that the industry executed, look at a map of the marshes of Louisiana--oil companies have deferred restoration of their extraction sites for decades.

Even now, the environmental campaign that produced this New Yorker piece, is struggling with what to do over a new oil terminal for the new "downstream" --the River is only good for oil export.

And so, there is aTallgrass Energy oil terminal proposed that would block the Master Plan's efforts to restore the river --the deepwater oil terminal would be built at the top of this sediment diversion / river restoration project, which would cripple its effectiveness and add an incredible risk of oil spills into the restoration area. And yet, the USACE has approved the project, without any Environmental Impact Statement, because of the special treatment that the industry gets in the oil colony of the USA.

Please help us!
posted by eustatic at 11:30 PM on March 26, 2019 [93 favorites]

The link above to the Wikipedia article about the Mississippi Embayment reminds me of when I moved to Memphis and was at first confused, then amused, at references to the region being the Delta. "Surely," I thought to myself, "they must realize that a river delta is near the mouth of the river, and refers to that specific area." I didn't realize that it really was a delta, hundreds of miles long.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:31 AM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Four years ago while flying over southeastern Missouri I was quite surprised to see these incredibly long canals. Here they are in Google Maps. It astonished me that I had never heard of these massive human-made structures. I think they are part of the Little River Drainage project, which aimed to convert swampland near the Mississippi into arable land.
posted by exogenous at 7:40 AM on March 27, 2019

Halloween Jack: Your first thought was correct. The "Mississippi Delta" region just south of Memphis is not part of the "Mississippi River Delta". The word delta in this case is describing the floodplain located between the Mississippi River and the Yazoo River.
posted by theory at 10:45 AM on March 27, 2019

South of about Memphis and prior to all the levees being put in, pretty much the entire course of the Mississippi was part of the deltas of its numerous tributaries. It was basically one very long swamp (or bayou, if you hail from South of Memphis) all the way to the gulf.
posted by wierdo at 3:02 PM on March 28, 2019

On second read, I enjoy Kolbert's grandiloquence, but wonder why that whole "greek tragedy of the United States" mode isn't applied to the massive refinery complexes from Chalmette to Baton Rouge that supply New York with heating oil.

They are hauntingly extra-human, in the same way that I think many of us would find a structure like Old River Control--a human creation that aspires to barely credible limits, or incredible limits. They are deathless masses that block out the sky and occasionally set it on fire. These facilites are the reason that Louisiana has some of the highest per capita carbon emissions.

They drink massive amounts of freshwater from the Mississippi River, which is why they are situated there in the first place.

It seems like Kolbert is dancing around the whole issue to me. Why not talk about the hubristic engineering of these petrochemical facilities, which are mostly placed in a region extremely vulnerable to hurricanes?

I friend of mine leans into the beauty of these facilities, and his project is called Geography of Robots, and a game called "NORCO: faraway lights" music link here

He also did some oral history work on the NORCO explosion of 1988

I would also cite the first season of True Detective's opening sequence, I feel like it captures that similarly inhuman vibe.
posted by eustatic at 5:44 PM on March 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

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