Mississippi River Model
Monday, August 16, 2004
CC's Journal 21

A small-scale physical model of the Mississippi River Delta at the
Vincent A. Forte River and Coastal Engineering Research Laboratory.

Marshmission took a needed change of pace when we docked the Wetland Wanderer at the Houma Municipal Marina and then came home to Baton Rouge to edit the thousands of pictures that I have accumulated since last November. Sue and I also needed to do some research. A break from the summer heat, biting deer flies and pesky mosquitoes was very welcome, especially after Sue commented that we could have baked a turkey in the houseboat when the wind die while anchored at Last Island. To my chagrin it cooled off as soon as we got home.

First on my research list was to visit the Vincent A. Forte River and Coastal Engineering Research Laboratory, which is a small-scale physical model of the Mississippi River Delta. This new 1.1 million dollar facility on River Road near LSU is designed to aid in the study of large-scale river diversion as a tactic for coastal restoration and maintenance. By using water and tiny blue particles that represent sand, scientist can do in thirty minutes what it would take a year of watching the Mississippi River flow. That's 100 years in 50 hours.

So they can see what would happen if we make a gap in the river below New Orleans to release fresh water and sediment into the marsh. It's called small scale; the massive model takes up 675-square-foot that represents 3,526 sq miles of delta land. Currently it has three large diversions and seven small ones and can run studies on any combination of these. A diversion is a gap in the levee that lets the muddy waters of the Mississippi enter the bays and marsh before it gets to the tip of southwest pass, the current navigation channel.

Dr. Clint Wilson, assistant professor in LSU's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, gave me the tour. After showing me some data on previous tests they have conducted, he cranked up the model and I could see this tiny Mississippi River pushing sediment down stream. He was quick to tell me that this is not a solution, but a method to study possibilities in coastal restoration. They have data for the last thirty-five years of the Mississippi's flow and they use this to run 100-year studies. I was quick to note that 1.1 million dollars for all the data possibilities is a bargain compared to the cost of other studies and Clint agreed saying many others had commented the same.

The model built in France and shipped over here in pieces. It opened last November and will be a definite asset to repairing Louisiana's vanishing coast.