Building a series of engineered structures called diversions along the lower Mississippi River will yield tens of billions of dollars in net annual benefits to the nation and hedge against future disasters, according to a new report co-authored by 22 prominent scientists and engineers.
The report, “Answering 10 Fundamental Questions about the Mississippi River Delta,” makes a scientific and economic case for restoring the Mississippi River Delta wetlands, which have shrunk in size by nearly 1,900 square miles since the 1930s. The report also makes the case for re-engineering the aging lower Mississippi River flood-control and navigation systems, which are increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic failures.
“Our research reveals considerable consensus within and across scientific disciplines about how the Mississippi River Delta functions and what actions must be taken to ensure long-term sustainability,” the report says. “It is clear that immediate action is warranted and is essential to the future stability of our nation’s economy.”
The report projects annual losses to the United States of $41 billion if the delta continues to collapse unchecked. Conversely, it estimates an annual net benefit of at least $62 billion if the delta can be maintained and expanded. The report also makes it clear that the only way to maintain delta wetlands in the long term is through the construction and operation of structures called diversions, which release water and sediment from the river into the wetlands, mimicking historical flows. The report concludes that the use of diversions will satisfy a number of interlocking demands.
The report is timely because the Louisiana legislature is currently considering the state’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, which relies heavily on river diversions to turn the tide on the state’s ongoing land loss crisis. The plan lays out a 50-year vision for protecting and restoring the coast, including increased hurricane risk reduction for coastal communities and eventually reaching a net growth, rather than a let loss, of wetlands.
A recent telephone survey found that 67 percent of likely voters nationwide believe it is an “extremely” or “very” important priority for the federal government to take steps to restore the Mississippi River Delta and that overwhelming numbers (84 percent) believe the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast affect the nation’s economy.
The Mississippi River Delta Science and Engineering Special Team, which produced the report, is a network of eminent scientists and engineers convened by the National Audubon Society, the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation to provide objective and independent analysis pertaining to Mississippi River Delta restoration.
The report released this week is a precursor to scientific articles that will be published in peer-reviewed journals and a book slated for release in the coming months.