News FocusEcology

Rebuilding Wetlands by Managing the Muddy Mississippi

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Science  03 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6068, pp. 520-521
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6068.520

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Coastal managers and scientists have struggled to find ways to restore water flow through the wetlands of the Mississippi delta and bring back the sediment, supply of which has been cut in half by humanmade river channels, levees, and dams intended to control the river and save coastal communities from flooding. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza spillway during the 2011 Mississippi River floods to divert floodwaters, which offered a rare opportunity to conduct a large-scale natural experiment in real time. The floodwaters did carry enough sediment to help rebuild the wetlands, but that material didn't always stay where it could do the most good. However, researchers gained valuable insights—including ideas about how spillway design can help produce more targeted sediment deposits, and what volume of flow through the spillways might be required for effective wetland rebuilding.