In December, Louisiana finally received permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed with a massive project to divert Mississippi River water to Barataria Bay in an unprecedented effort to slow land loss in the Gulf of Mexico. In February, the project was awarded $2.26 billion in funding.
The goal of the project is laudable (although models predict only 1 percent of eroded lands will be restored via this diversion method). Since levees stopped the river’s annual flooding—with its subsequent deposition of silt and mud—the Gulf Coast has lost a Delaware-sized area of land. This leaves Gulf states in peril when faced with severe weather (e.g., Hurricane Katrina) and has damaged natural habitat for coastal wildlife.
The problem? Over the 50-year lifespan of the project, it will kill approximately 2,000 bottlenose dolphins now living in Barataria Bay. The project is designed to produce a huge influx of freshwater to the bay, decreasing its salinity. Dolphins cannot tolerate low salinity, yet are unlikely to leave, as they are strongly faithful to their natal habitat, even if it kills them. These dolphins will suffer lingering deaths, as freshwater ultimately causes multiple organ failure. Oyster beds are also at risk from the lower salinity. AWI feels there must be a better way to restore the Gulf Coast.