Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mississippi River Floods Repairing BP's Deepwater Horizon's Oil Spill Damage To Louisiana Wetlands

From TIME, "How the Floods May Restore Louisiana's Wetlands" by Steven Gray:
Only a year ago, the worst oil spill in American history [BP's Deepwater Horizon's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico] slathered millions of gallons of oil across Louisiana's coast. The muck covered the tall, bamboo-like cane and short grass that stitches together the vegetation that makes up the wetlands south of New Orleans, preventing them from receiving oxygen. Many experts feared it would take years for the wetlands to recover, and that Louisiana's core seafood industry — especially the oysters, which unlike shrimp and fish cannot run away from hint of oil — was imperiled. Such sediment is crucial: the loss of vegetation quickens erosion of soil and islands.

Now, however, sediment-rich floodwaters are headed for the contaminated wetlands. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, manager of much of the nation's waterways, has, over the last century, set up a framework of Mississippi River containment that has ultimately deprived the Delta's wetlands of much-needed silt. That reduced sediment has, experts say, accelerated the shrinking of the Delta. Now, however, the agency has opened two channels to divert part of the Mississippi away from New Orleans and toward the wetlands. One channel is the Bonnet Carre spillway, which is funneling water into Lake Pontchartrain, and, from there, to the Gulf of Mexico. The other is the Morganza spillway, which sends water along the Atchafalaya River Basin and into the Gulf. The water and sediment forced through this channel, experts say, will likely help replenish the wetlands to the west of the Mississippi with fresh sediment, especially near fishing and shrimping villages like Dulac. The last major flood, in 1973, delivered enough sediment to create what are now large mud banks covered with lush grass and trees. Those banks have provided some of the crucial defenses of New Orleans during major storms.

The flood will, to some degree, flush out the oil remaining from last year's spill.
Read the complete TIME article here.

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