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Environmental Management in the Mississippi Delta System
Sherwood M. Gagliano (2), Johannes L. van Beek (2)
The lowlands of the Louisiana coastal zone are exceptionally high in biological productivity. Unique natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage further identify this area as a nationally important resource. The coastal lowlands and its ecology are a product of the deltaic-fluvial system of the Mississippi River in a zone of interaction with marine forces of the Gulf of Mexico. Renewability of its resources is therefore dependent on preservation of the self-maintaining character of the delta system.
Human activity has seriously altered the natural balance of the delta system. Massive environmental degradation has occurred during the past 30 years, and the entire system may soon collapse. Primary causes of deterioration include: 1) flood control and navigation improvement, 2) accelerated subsidence, 3) urban encroachment into wetlands, 4) water pollution, and 5) canal dredging.
Maintaining the Mississippi delta system as a renewable resource requires a coordinated decision-making process which allows for environmental management. Based on a pilot study for south-central Louisiana this paper addresses the problem of restoring the system's balance while allowing for projected growth and development. A multi-use management plan based on analysis of natural and human processes operating in the area and land use suitability is proposed. Highways and other public works projects provide the mechanism for directing growth and development to environmentally suitable areas. Renewable resource areas are identified, and management priorities and guidelines outlined. Of prime importance is water resource management program providing for conservation of local runoff as well as directing Mississippi River water and sediment for environmental maintenance and enhancement. Controlled delta building and introduction of supplementary water into estuarine basins are vital to restoration of the natural balance.
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