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The Debate for a Delta

Posted from Austin, Texas, United States.

The state of Louisiana has not always looked the way that it does today. Over time the Mississippi River has caused the land to change and evolve. Today the river has been channelized to flow straight for the ease of industrial and trade boats to access the city. But it has not aways been this way, naturally the Mississippi River is a delta. A delta is a river that divides into smaller rivers and empties into a larger body of water. During this natural process, it picks up nutrients and sediments from the upper regions of the river resulting in a build up of sediment and organic material deposits at the mouth of the delta. This deposited sediment is highly rich in organic material which is important for the native wetlands and beneficial to the development of new land and crops. However with the channelization and prevention of the delta to flow naturally it has caused many environmental effects.

Currently along the Mississippi River levees have been installed to prevent the river from changing course over time. With the channelization the river has been forced to flow “straight”. This is beneficial to the city economically. New Orleans is known as one of the largest port cities in the United States. If the river was allowed to naturally divide it would result in the development of sand bars. Sand bars would inhibit the ability of cargo ships to access the city to deliver and pick up items such as food, oil, coal, and clothing. This is the reason why the levees were built to channelize the river. If the river was allowed to naturally flow into a delta it would affect the state of Louisiana economically, however the channelization is also impacting the state environmentally.

The citizens of Louisiana have been depleting the land of its rich resources over the last 120 years. As a result, major environmental consequences have occurred such as the degradation and loss of wetlands, decrease in water quality, and land loss. Loss of wetlands have occurred because the channelization of the river has caused it to flow faster and thus not allowing it to divide and disperse its rich sediments. This sediment is an important contributor to wetlands because it accommodates increase land mass and organic materials increasing the ability of wetlands to act as a storm buffer. In addition, man has removed a great amount of the wetland Cypress trees for the use of lumber. Without the presence of cypress trees, the land of Louisiana is more vulnerable to the effects of wind and flooding. Cypress trees are known for their ability to absorb copious amounts of water and act as a wind buffer. Furthermore, the channelization of the river has affected levels of salinity within the estuaries. This means that the oysters have migrated closer towards the shores. As a result, industries have taken advantage of this change and are now harvesting oysters at alarming rates. Oysters are important for their ability to filter water, their loss within the ocean has therefore decreased the overall water quality within the surrounding gulf. Not only does this affect water quality but the ability of the wetlands to survive. The most important environmental effect caused by man is land loss. Land loss is a consequence of the channelization of the river. Channelization due to the installation of levees has caused a choking effect down river causing water levels to rise and speed to increase. The increased water speed has prevented the river to naturally slow and disperse sediments evenly over the land. Furthermore inhibiting the build up of sediments to support the growth of wetland ecosystems and the surface area  of the land. All of these factors put together have contributed to the devestating  effects of Hurricane Katrina.

To prevent a repeat of what happened during the storm of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana has installed a system that is called siphons. Siphons are large pipes that when turned on will pull nutrient and organic rich sediment out of the Mississippi River and push it into nearby wetlands. The goal of this project is to replicate mother natures ability to disperse sediment naturally, just as a delta would. The problem is that these pipes are rarely ever turned on. Some think that the restoration of of these wetlands will be detrimental the city economically. While others think that it is necessary to keep the city above water. However the larger problem in this situation seems to be the debate over whether it is more important to save the city economically or the ecosystem. But what most people do not realize is that without a well balanced and functioning ecosystem, there will be no city.

  • Katie and Hayden

Woodlands Plantation Visit 3/22

Posted from Austin, Texas, United States.

Today we visited the Woodlands Plantation after our service at Woodlands Conservancy Park service. Woodlands plantation is a bed and breakfast preserved on the property of a real plantation back in the 1800’s. The property preserved an old cabin of where the slaves used to live, the family house and over watcher’s house. Foster the owner of the property also reserved an old church which he turned into a bar. Foster also provided a Crawfish boil which was fun to experience.

Day 6

Today started out with our plant surveys. After completing a lot of work we headed to southern Louisiana where the decline of wetlands is very drastic and problematic. 
We met up with a man named Foster. He spoke to us about the land of southern Louisiana. I learned that southern 

 Louisiana did not always look the way it does right now. The Mississippi River is a delta, or a river that naturally divides into smaller rivers and empties into a larger body of water. This means that over time the Mississippi River twists and turns, changing and evolving the land. As it flows the river carves and deposits large amounts of nutrients and sediments from higher parts of the river. However, today there are levees in place along the Mississippi delta that keep it flowing “straight”, making it a river and preventing it to naturally occur as a delt. The purpose of this is to prevent the river from branching and alternating which would then result in the formation of sand bars in the middle of the river. Sand bars would inhibit the pathway for cargo boats. The Mississippi River is known for its selling and trading ports. If the river were to alter and form sand bars, the industrial boats would not have access to the city. In turn this would impact the city economically, but the levees are also impacting the city environmentally. 

Man has depleted majority of this land within the last 120 years. As a result major environmental consequences have occurred. The biggest consequences were caused from-

(1) Harvested oyster banks for food and other uses- causing a decrease in water filtration of the ocean

(2) Cutting down of cypress trees for their wood- accelerating the depletion of wetlands and inhibiting the wetlands ability to act as a buffer against storms

(3)BP oil companies- oil spills causing negative affects on wildlife and then their ability to contribute to their niche in the ecosystem.  

(4) Levee industry- the installation of levees throughout Louisiana which have prevented the land from naturally draining and caused more unnecessary flooding. 

Together these factors serve as a catalyst for wetland degradation. Over the last 50 years the state has seen a significant loss of wetland. If nothing is done, it is predicted that the amount of land lost will increase significantly. 

The real debate comes down to whether it is more important to save the city or the enviornment. However what most people do not seem to realize is that if we don’t save the enviornment, there will be no city. 
Foster shared with us some ideas to restoring the land 

(1) Lower the levees and utilize a drainage system allowing the delta to flow again

(2) Build homes higher to prevent effects of flooding 

(3) More projects 

The main idea is that a balance needs to be found if we wish to see recovery in Louisiana. However it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of change, education, and knowledge. But Foster is confident that it can be done. 

Crawfish!!!

At first, I was kind of scared to try crawfish; they are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They turned out to be delicious! The kind people at Woodland plantation served us some awesome food. (We got to see their gators too!)

Taking on a different trail

Posted from Address not found.

We started the day bright and early with a trip across the Mississippi River  to cut across traffic.

Good morning from Louisiana! 

Instead of going to our usual site on trail B, my group got drafted to do a set of 3 new transects down trail A. We had 4.5 hours to complete this task, and amazingly we did it! All with 20 minutes to spare. I think the lack of humidity and lower temperatures really helped with our energy levels. None of us felt tired throughout transecting, despite hacking through meters of black berry.

Sideways again. Curse you WordPress!

We were all feeling rejuvenated on our way over to the bed and breakfast! We even were able to take a few low key roadkill surveys for Sean along the way. Once we got to Plaquemines Parish, we sadly found out that the boat we were going to ride was broken. Hopefully they get it fixed in the morning!

Currently we are all staying here on this bed and breakfast plantation. This place is straight on the label of Southern Comfort! It’s lovely here but also eerie. They’ve provided us with a delicious crawfish boil and some jambalaya! Even more, we got to witness some gators in action.

Property gators!

Just feeding the neighbors, no biggie

This plantation look familiar?

Delicious crawfish. Smelled very swampy, but tasted subtle and buttery.

We are all currently entering data in the spirits church area. It will most likely be a long night…

Day 6 – a night out

The morning was a little crazy but good. We had to pack up a different set of clothes because we are staying out at a place called Woodland Plantation, which is a bed and breakfast. Before we headed out for our h new place we did some veg work. We had 5 hours to do 3 transects and we all rose to the occasion!! Which made Sean happy and everyone very happy. The group was supposed to get a boat tour of the restoration project going on in the marshes that are close by but the boat wasn’t working so we got a mini tour of the pump system that takes the silt out of the Mississippi River and into the marsh. We spent the rest of the day walking around the plantation looking at it all and learning about the system. We also got see some alligators get some food ( they got steak and fish!). It was really cool, these reptiles are amazing. For our dinner we had a salad, garlic bread, jambalaya. The main course was Craw fish boil. It was really good, not a lot of meat on a craw fish but it was really good. Now we are enjoying a quiet night inputting our data.

Me next to a giant cypress tree

Me next to an alligator

Everyone enjoying an afternoon in front of the main house of the old plantation

Me about to eat a craw fish

Me eating craw fish

A great sunset in Louisiana

Crawfish boil at Woodland Plantation

Love me some crawfish and corn. It’s the only way to eat crawfish. A crawfish boil is used as a way to socialize, because eating crawfish is very time consuming. This time gives people the chance to really sit down and not rush through their meal. 

Gators galore! 

Spirit Hall was once a church and is now ironically a bar and a restaurant at Woodland Plantation. Foster saved this church from being demolished and restored it. He had to cut the church in half in order to transport it over to his plantation. It is a beautiful place with blue and yellow stained glass windows, hard wood floors and many historical stories from newspapers on the walls. This place is now used for socializing. We met the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana Billy Nungesser. He told us the story of how he pardoned a crawfish after Mardi Gras!!! 

New Orleans Historic Collection

The New Orleans Historical Collection has items from New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf South. There are items that include, diaries, journals, paintings, furniture, etc. Many of these items are located in the history galleries and there are changing of exhibits. The New Orleans Historical Collection is also a research center/publisher. In the research center, you can go look at any item in the collection which isn’t on display. There is also an online catalog to look at Historical items. The items in the collection were sorted by time frame, making it easier to understand the history throughout time. 

At the Collection we saw the film “Surrounded by Water” that described the history of New Orleans and it’s connection between the Old World and the New World. The Mississippi River that extends far between states is a system that continually deposits sediment along its route. This sediment builds the land that places like New Orleans are founded on. The Indians that first arrived to what would become New Orleans picked the place to settle that was above sea level and wouldn’t flood normally. This eventually became the French Quarter. 

From the woodlands to the city

Posted from Austin, Texas, United States.

Like most days, today was all over the place! We started off in the field first thing in the morning. Most teams finished up yesterday’s transects, and by 12:00 pm we all decided to join forces and power through a full 100 meters. We called ourselves Hayden and the machete girls. We had two ladies carving the path of blackberry and box elder, and groups of three recording the first, second, third, and fourth 20 meters. It was a hard trail, but we finished just in time!

If you turn your head, here’s a field selfie!

By 1:30pm we were in the French quarter, ready to meet Daphne at the historical New Orleans museum. We watched a 30 minute documentary on the geomorphology of NOLA pre-hurricane. Because we were crunched for time, we only had around 20 minutes to explore the museums historical exhibits.

Check out this dude. Sleepy in the 1700s

Afterwards we were joined by Harry Schearer who discussed the politics of the levee failures in depth. He had a very smooth voice!

it was interesting to hear about not only the structural failures but also the socio-political ones as well. We had one more talk after Harry, with Mark S. (Full name in another post.. Too long to remember right now!) of NOLA.com. He talked to us about history of his newspaper business, as well as all of the failures of the Louisiana Storm Protection Master Plan. All the details are listed in Katie and I’s other post!

We got to listen to Mark in fancy business chairs!

We finished off our night at the Waffle House after a failed dinner attempt at Chickie Wah Wah. It had to be the best decision we’ve made so far. Our waitress was named Keedy and she was the sweetest. They were all so sweet! And the food was amazing. Good night y’all!