The swamps of Louisiana are a true staple to the state. However, every 100 minutes a field of land is lost.
"We made a choice more than a hundred years ago to keep the river in its channel for navigation and flood control. And those are decisions that made a lot of sense but we also interrupted the natural system that made all of this possible here," explains Steve Cochran, the director of Restore Mississippi River Delta. Cochran says that while the levees are necessary, the barricades have taken a hard hit on the wetlands and its access to fresh water.
"If you look in the marsh here, there are almost no trees at all," during a swamp tour near Lake Maurepas, Dr. John Lopez with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, showed the effects of the lack of fresh water from the Mississippi River.
Lopez says a Coastal Master Plan, unanimously passed the state legislature this year. The plan will restore the wetland, which includes drilling a hole into the levee north of Garyville in St. John Parish. That water will then make its way to the Hope Canal and around to Lake Maurepas. The plan could even improve flood prevention.
"It's certainly better in terms of flooding because it will help push back against the possibility of water coming in from the south and the east," says Cochran.
The master plan also includes restoring marshes, land-building, and barrier island restoration.
Scientists are doing everything they can to preserve the wetlands even bringing in volunteers to plant thousands of trees. However, red tape is slowing down the process. Scientists are worried about the future but the future is now.
"The diversions still have to go through a permitting process," adds Lopez.
Permits from federal to local levels are needed. Therefore, breaking ground on the levee could take another three or four years, dragging the project out once more.
"There has to be (a sense of urgency) partly because we know what's coming, that's what we see in the maps, we see what the flood levels will be like in 50 years if we don't take action. We know that to be the case, we see that in science," says Cochran.
Without these restoration projects, experts say Louisiana could lose an additional 2,250 square miles of land over the next 50 years. Essentially parts of the greater Baton Rouge area could become coastal property if no action is taken.
"We even knew at the time a couple of hundred years ago that we were going to have to at some point pay for those choices. We have to do that now," says Cochran.
Officials say part of the restoration projects will be funded with two to three billion dollars of the BP Oil settlement.
For more information or to help, visit http://mississippiriverdelta.org/.
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