Unleashing Mississippi River could be key to restoring Louisiana wetlands

Painfully aware that their state is sinking, Louisiana politicians are pushing a $50 billion plan to fight wetlands erosion by unleashing the Mississippi River. The river built much of the southeastern part of the state over time, through sediment deposits. But levees and other restraints have kept it on an artificial course in recent decades, leaving nearby wetlands to sink. Since the 1930s, about 1,900 square miles have succumbed. Nothing a little re-engineering can’t fix, say advocates of the plan, which calls for removing some levees, adding others, and mechanically pumping sediment in some places. While hurdles include the need for state and federal approval, a maze of property-rights issues, and concerns from some who think building more levees is not the road to healthy wetlands, many are on board. “This will be one of the great engineering challenges of the 21st century,” said Denise J. Reed of the University of New Orleans. “What is obvious to everyone is that something has to be done.”