I was dismayed to see a recent front-page article raising questions about the use of river diversions to restore our coast. After all, neither New Orleans nor Belle Chasse nor Chalmette would be here without the river. Diversions, studied for decades, are engineered cuts in levees that reconnect the river to the very coast it built. There are two types of diversions: freshwater and sediment. It’s important to understand the difference. The focus of the recent article was a questionable, narrow study of freshwater diversions. Freshwater diversions are built for salinity control, not carrying sediment into the marsh. Sediment diversions, a primary tool slated to restore our coast, will be built to move large loads of sediment into the marsh at key times of the year. Sediment is the essential ingredient to building and sustaining land.
The facts are: the only areas of the coast that are currently building land are areas with heavy influence from the river; the only restoration tool at our disposal that can build and sustain land are sediment diversions; we get the biggest bang for our restoration bucks by using the power of the river.
I’ve been fishing and hunting the waters of southeast Louisiana for 20-plus years. I’ve seen the land disappear with my own eyes from places like Venice and Grand Isle. I’ve also seen new marsh emerge, survive storms, and thrive because of connection to the river at Pivach Cut and Locust Pond/Tiger Pass. We are here because of the river, not in spite of it. We are in the midst of a land loss crisis along our coast, and our communities are becoming more vulnerable to storm surges every day. We must act swiftly, using the best science and using our common sense as well, to restore the coast and protect our people. That means reconnecting our wetlands to the muddy Mississippi. It’s undoubtedly our best chance at saving Louisiana’s coast as we know it.