Bookmarked The Controversial Plan to Unleash the Mississippi River by Boyce Upholt (WIRED)

A long history of constraining the river through levees has led to massive land loss in its delta. Can people engineer a way out?

Boyce Upholt explores the engineering nature and the challenges with reversing the side-effects. Whereas in the past, water associated with the Mississippi would flow out through the delta, dumping sediment and building up the land. Nowadays it all flows through a single channel. Every choice associated with fixing this problem has its own environmental and economic consequences.

“There’s not a son of a bitch in this parish, or within this industry, that doesn’t want coastal restoration,” Acy Cooper, the president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association tells me when I find him repairing his boat in Venice, the southernmost harbor on the Mississippi River. Cooper is a third-generation shrimper; he knows that if the marshland is not saved, that chain will come to an end. The necessary gradient of water will disappear, replaced by salty ocean. So Cooper supports some projects—using dredged mud to build marsh, for instance—but worries that the diversion will make the water near Venice too fresh, pushing shrimp out into the Gulf. The small boats used by many shrimpers can’t travel that far. He compares the diversion to a gun held to his head: “Either let me die slowly and I can adapt, or you just pull the trigger and kill me now. That’s the way I feel about it,” he says. “If you pull the trigger now, I’m dead.”

The Army Corps’ draft environmental impact statement, released in spring 2021, confirmed many of Cooper’s worst fears: the blast of fresh water will have “major, permanent, adverse impacts on brown shrimp abundance.” Oysters will suffer, too. Tidal flooding will increase near homes in Myrtle Grove and other marshland communities, while the canals that residents use to travel to their favored fishing sites will become plugged with mud.

This is something captured by Elena Lazos-Chavero and her research team in their research into the act of reforestisation.

Lazos-Chavero’s team concludes, “All reforestation interventions are entangled in social and political structures… The effects of dynamism on trade-offs and synergies for these and various other stakeholders should be considered in planning phases and reevaluated throughout a reforestation effort.”