Photo via University of Maryland
And that's a good thing, believe it or not. Mentioning levee-busting and Louisiana in the same breath may seem like a faux pas, even vulgar, with repercussions of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy still afflicting the state. Talk of stronger levees, more levees, is the common practice. So why are two brothers carrying out the largest levee busting operation in North America right in Louisiana?Because the levees, while vital to agriculture and the flat-out survival of many, have also been disastrous to the environment. The New York Times reports:
. . . there is a growing awareness that Louisiana’s levees have exacted a huge environmental cost. Inland, cypress forests and wetlands crucial for migrating waterfowl have vanished; in southern Louisiana, coastal marshes deprived of regular infusions of sediment-rich river water have yielded by the mile to an encroaching Gulf of Mexico.
And it's worth noting that Louisiana's coastline is the fastest shrinking coastline on earth for precisely this reason. The aforementioned brothers, Kelby and Keith Ouchley, each who have lifelong careers with environmental organizations, are hoping to correct that damage. It won't be easy.
In what experts are calling the biggest levee-busting operation ever in North America, the brothers plan to return the muddy river to its ancient floodplain, coaxing back plants and animals that flourished there when President Thomas Jefferson first had the land surveyed in 1804.
But the brothers have a long history of working in this particular region:
The parcel that the Ouchley brothers plan to restore, known as Mollicy Farms, was added in the 1990s to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service’s Upper Ouachita (pronounced WASH-it-tah) holdings in a series of purchases assisted by the Nature Conservancy and totaling $6.6 million. The brothers and their organizations have since worked on several environmental projects there, including a 10,000-acre tree-planting operation, Kelby Ouchley said.
But busting the levees and letting the water flow back into its natural path could bring the most radically corrective change to the area they, or just about anyone, has ever seen in Louisiana. Nature intended the area to be a floodplain, after all. The project will cost an estimated $4 million.