Mississippi River may be redirected to build Louisiana wetlands

How to protect and restore the Louisiana coast? A group of researchers has a crazy idea that just might work: shift the course of the Mississippi River. Every half hour or so, the Mississippi steals a football-field-sized chunk of soil from Louisiana’s coastal wetlands; it dumps 120 million tons of would-be hurricane buffer into the Gulf of Mexico in an average year. The river currently flows into the Gulf at an outcrop of land shaped like a bird foot; the researchers propose opening a system of levees to direct the river into the Gulf earlier. Over time, the bird-foot peninsula would turn into a barrier island, and silt would build up in the shallows to create new wetlands. It won’t be easy or cheap, but it’s “the only practical solution,” says Virginia Burkett of the U.S. Geological Survey, and state officials and scientists are on board. Enviros have trumpeted similar ideas for years, and been ignored — but, says environmental lawyer James Tripp, “As a result of [Hurricane] Katrina, everyone’s thinking has become more flexible.”