Environment
 

Two-year-old breach in Mississippi River could be formally named ‘Mardi Gras Pass’

When the Mississippi River broke through its east bank south of Pointe à la Hache on Mardi Gras two years ago, a spirited debate broke out: Was the new opening simply a temporary breach or a natural pass?

Some coastal advocates have called it a “pass,” urging the state to allow it to grow unabated so it can help rebuild the adjacent sinking wetlands.

Some state officials have been more circumspect. They’ve called the opening a breach and listened to the pleas of an energy company that wants to have it controlled because it impedes access to its oil and gas wells.

Now the state Department of Transportation and Development is preparing to weigh in on the side of the “pass” advocates. It is readying a request to the U. S. Board on Geographic Names to formally designate the opening “Mardi Gras Pass.”

The agency’s Geospatial Services Divisions has prepared an online “story map” that lays out in seven parts the history of the opening as well as hydrological data for its permanent name status.

The pass, according to the map, “is the first distributary to develop in the river’s delta in many decades.”

This image shows how Mardi Gras Pass, marked with the flag, has altered water flow in the delta. The red lines show areas that receive a continuous flow of water since the breach formed. The yellow lines show the flow of water before. For more, see the state's interactive map.

Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development

This image shows how Mardi Gras Pass, marked with the flag, has altered water flow in the delta. The red lines show areas that receive a continuous flow of water since the breach formed. The yellow lines show the flow of water before. For more, see the state's interactive map.

John Lopez, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, which has led the effort to keep the pass open, was not surprised by the Department of Transportation initiative.

“Back in March, the Coast Guard officially listed Mardi Gras Pass as a navigable waterway, so getting it placed on the maps just makes sense,” he said.

Officially getting a name may not end the debate between Lopez’s organization and Sundown Energy over how to manage the opening. When the breach occurred, it wiped out a road the company used to access several wells.

Sundown was granted a permit by the state Department of Natural Resources to build a bridge over the opening, but the foundation believes the culverts would be too small to allow the new waterway to reach its land-building potential.

“Nothing is really settled yet,” Lopez said. “We’re still hopeful the bridge, when it’s built, will be large enough and high enough to let Mardi Gras Pass reach its full capacity.”

And by then, it might have an official name.

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  • nickelndime

    When you get older, you begin to realize the wisdom of old sayings like the ones your old mother used to say, for example, “Let Nature take its course.” This seems to fit here. Besides, I am extremely wary of the interests of energy companies! Can you blame me?

  • Chris McLindon

    This is a nice story. Thank-you Bob for using the phrase “sinking wetlands” instead of “eroding wetlands” as so many of your fellow journalists do. If we are ever going to get to a place where we can allow naturual restoration to take place on a large scale, there needs to be a much better understanding by the public (and the media) of the science of coastal processes. That understanding starts with getting the semantics right.

  • f_p

    the wetlands are both sinking and eroding… subsidence and salt water intrusions… And of course rising sea levels… Nearly all caused by oil and gas…. the rest by coal.

  • f_p

    We need somebody to document the rebuilding. Are there any before and After photos or satellite images? Even if they end up closing this, it is great case for allowing the river to naturally restore wetlands. Currently the river sends 99% of the its sediment out to the Gulf and probably over the continental shelf. The wetlands filter the water which would also help to reduce the size and impacts of the Dead Zones that form in the Gulf. We have to get this restoration process going again.

  • c-l

    I like the choice of the name, but is there any worry it would be confused with Bayou Mardi Gras downriver across from Fort Jackson?

  • Kelly M. Haggar

    So did the Corps ever answer the request through 33 CFR 329.14 to designate this road cut into a set of artificial canals as a Sec 10 water? If the answer was “yes,” what’s the reach? If the answer was “no,” why was it denied? The basis by which MVN makes nav determinations (and how they treat them once they make a “yes” call) is far from clear to little ol’ me. (BTW, for those who don’t already know, a USCG determination is NOT automatically a Sec 10 determination for RHA 1899 purposes; neither is naming convention.)

  • Chris McLindon

    f_p,

    Meade Allison of the Water Institute said in his 2012 study:

    “As much as 44% of the annual total suspended sediment load and 80% of the sand load of the Mississippi + Red Rivers was sequestered between the Old River Control Structure and the Mississippi-Atchafalaya exits to the Gulf” in other words not only does virtually no sediment even make it into the Gulf, it is not even making it to the lower reaches of the river. Allison concluded “only a relatively small proportion of the upstream sediment load is available for coastal restoration approaching the Gulf”

    With regard to introducing nutrient-loaded water into the marsh Eugene Turner of LSU said in his 2011 study
    “The evidence indicates that diversions not only fail to conserve mature brackish and tidal freshwater marshes, but disrupt plant physiology in ways that endanger individual plant vigor and overall marsh survival.”
    Coastal restoration projects have been operational for over 20 years, and it would be wonderful for somebody to document the rebuilding (of any of them) unfortunately that is not going to happen. There is not enough sediment in the river to have any meaningful impact in the creation of new wetlands, and the excess nutrients that are in the river are more likely to do harm than good.