Large Infrequently Operated River Diversions for Mississippi Delta Restoration

  • John W. DayEmail author
  • Robert R. Lane
  • Christopher F. D’Elia
  • Adrian R. H. Wiegman
  • Jeffrey S. Rutherford
  • Gary P. Shaffer
  • Christopher G. Brantley
  • G. Paul Kemp
Part of the Estuaries of the World book series (EOTW)


Currently the Mississippi delta stands as a highly degraded and threatened coastal ecosystem having lost about 25% of coastal wetlands during the twentieth century. To address this problem, a $50 billion, 50 year restoration program is underway. A central component of this program is reintroduction of river water back into the deltaic plain to mimic natural functioning of the delta. However, opposition to diversions has developed based on a number of perceived threats. These include over-freshening of coastal estuaries, displacement of fisheries, perceived water quality problems, and assertions that nutrients in river water leads to wetland deterioration. In addition, growing climate impacts and increasing scarcity and cost of energy will make coastal restoration more challenging and limit restoration options. We address these issues in the context of an analysis of natural and artificial diversions, crevasse splays, and small sub-delta lobes. We suggest that episodic large diversions and crevasses (>5000 m3 s−1) can build land quickly while having transient impacts on the estuarine system. Small diversions (<200 m3 s−1) that are more or less continuously operated build land slowly and can lead to over-freshening and water level stress. We use land building rates for different sized diversions and impacts of large periodic inputs of river water to coastal systems in the Mississippi delta to conclude that high discharge diversions operated episodically will lead to rapid coastal restoration and alleviate concerns about diversions. Single diversion events have deposited sediments up to 40 cm in depth over areas up to 130–180 km2. This approach should have broad applicability to deltas globally.


Wetlands Mississippi delta River diversions Climate change Energy scarcity 



Partial support for this project was provided by a grant from the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Additional support came from the Coastal Sustainability Studio and the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University (LSU). We thank Hampton Peele of LSU for satellite imagery of the Davis Crevasse and Don Davis for information on historical crevasses.

This chapter is a reprint of Day et al. 2016 (cited below), originally published in Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science. Permission to reprint this was granted courtesy of elsevier. We provide an addendum at the end of this chapter. To reference the main text, cite the Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science version. Cite this chapter to reference the materials from the addendum.

Day, J.W., Lane, R.R., D’Elia, C.F., Wiegman, A.R., Rutherford, J.S., Shaffer, G.P., Brantley, C.G. and Kemp, G.P., (2016) Large infrequently operated river diversions for Mississippi delta restoration. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 183, pp. 292–303.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • John W. Day
    • 1
    Email author
  • Robert R. Lane
    • 1
  • Christopher F. D’Elia
    • 2
  • Adrian R. H. Wiegman
    • 1
  • Jeffrey S. Rutherford
    • 1
  • Gary P. Shaffer
    • 3
  • Christopher G. Brantley
    • 4
  • G. Paul Kemp
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Oceanography and Coastal SciencesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.College of the Coast and EnvironmentLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesSoutheastern Louisiana UniversityHammondUSA
  4. 4.U.S. Army Corps of EngineersNorcoUSA

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