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Environmental Management

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 181–192 | Cite as

Louisiana wetland loss: A regional water management approach to the problem

  • Paul H. Templet
  • Klaus J. Meyer-Arendt
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Abstract

Loss of Louisiana's coastal wetlands has reached catastrophic proportions. The loss rate is approximately 150 km2/yr (100 acres/day) and is increasing exponentially. Total wetland loss since the turn of the century has been almost 0.5 million ha (1.1 million acres) and represents an area larger than Rhode Island. The physical cause of the problem lies in man's attempts to control the Mississippi River's flooding, while enhancing navigation and extracting minerals. Levee systems and control structures confine sediments that once nourished the wetlands to the river channel. As a consequence, the ultimate sediment deposition is in deep Gulf waters off the Louisiana coast. The lack of sediment input to the interdistributary wetlands results in an accretion deficit. Natural and human-induced subsidence exceeds accretion so that the wetlands sink below sea level and convert to water.

The solution is to provide a thin veneer of sediment (approximately 0.6 cm/yr; an average of 1450 g m−2 yr−1) over the coastal marshes and swamps and thus prevent the submergence of vegetation. The sediment source is the Mississippi River system. Calculations show that 9.2% of the river's annual suspended sediment load would be required to sustain the deltaic plain wetlands. It should be distributed during the six high-water months (December–June) through as disaggregated a network as possible. The problem is one of distribution: how can the maximum acres of marsh be nourished with the least cost? At present, the river is managed through federal policy for the benefit of navigation and flood control. A new policy structure, recognizing the new role for the river-sediment distribution, is recommended.

Key words

Louisiana Mississippi Delta Sediment Accretion deficit Land loss Wetlands Management 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York Inc 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul H. Templet
    • 1
  • Klaus J. Meyer-Arendt
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Environmental StudiesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.Department of Geology and GeographyMississippi State UniversityMississippiUSA

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