Research to support integrated
water and environmental management
in the lower Mississippi River
Committee on Strategic Research for
Integrated Water Resources Management
Water Science and Technology Board
Division on Earth and Life Studies
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the panel responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
Support for this study was provided by The Water Institute of the Gulf under Agreement No. BRAF-2012-NRC-CG. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-29216-0
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-29216-6
Cover: Image courtesy of the European Space Agency (ESA).
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
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COMMITTEE ON STRATEGIC RESEARCH FOR INTEGRATED WATER RESOURCES MANAGEMENT
JAMES L. WESCOAT, Jr., Chair, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
XIMING CAI, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
G. MATHIAS KONDOLF, University of California, Berkeley
BEN R. HODGES, University of Texas, Austin
SAMANTHA B. JOYE, University of Georgia, Athens
WILLIAM M. LEWIS, University of Colorado, Boulder
LEONARD A. SHABMAN, Resources for the Future, Washington, DC
EELCO VAN BEEK, University of Twente, Netherlands
JEFFREY JACOBS, Study Director
MICHAEL J. STOEVER, Research Associate
ANITA A. HALL, Senior Program Associate
WATER SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY BOARD
GEORGE M. HORNBERGER, Chair, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
LISA ALVAREZ-COHEN, University of California, Berkeley (through June 2013)
EDWARD J. BOUWER, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
YU-PING CHIN, Ohio State University, Columbus
M. SIOBHAN FENNESSY, Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio
BEN GRUMBLES, Clean Water America Alliance, Washington, DC
GEORGE R. HALLBERG, The Cadmus Group, Watertown, Massachusetts
KENNETH R. HERD, Southwest Florida Water Management District, Brooksville, Florida (through June 2013)
CATHERINE L. KLING, Iowa State University, Ames
DEBRA S. KNOPMAN, RAND Corporation, Arlington, Virginia
LARRY LARSON, Association of State Floodplain Managers, Madison, Wisconsin
RITA P. MAGUIRE, Maguire & Pearce PLLC, Phoenix, Arizona
DAVID I. MAURSTAD, OST, Inc., McLean, Virginia
DAVID H. MOREAU, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (through June 2013)
DONALD I. SIEGEL, Syracuse University, New York (Chair through June 2013)
ROBERT SIMONDS, The Robert Simonds Company, Culver City, California
FRANK H. STILLINGER, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
MARYLYNN V. YATES, University of California, Riverside
JAMES W. ZIGLAR, SR., Van Ness Feldman, Washington, DC
JEFFREY JACOBS, Director
LAURA J. EHLERS, Senior Program Officer
STEPHANIE E. JOHNSON, Senior Program Officer
M. JEANNE AQUILINO, Financial and Administrative Associate
MICHAEL J. STOEVER, Research Associate
ANITA A. HALL, Senior Program Associate
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Gregory W. Characklis, University of North Carolina; Gerald E. Galloway, Jr., University of Maryland; Ti Le-Huu, Bangkok, Thailand; Daniel P. Loucks, Cornell University; Lester A. Snow, California Water Foundation, Sacramento; Frank H. Stillinger, Princeton University; Henry J. Vaux, Jr., University of California (emeritus), Oakland.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Michael Kavanaugh, Geosyntech Consultants (Oakland, CA), appointed as report Monitor by the NRC Report Review Committee, and A. Dan Tarlock, Chicago Kent College of Law, appointed as report Coordinator by the NRC Division on Earth and Life Studies. Appointed by the National Research Council, they were responsible for ensuring that an independent examination of this
report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
Deltaic environments are some of the world’s most biologically rich, geophysically dynamic, and socially precarious landscapes, even under ordinary circumstances. Sedimentation, erosion, subsidence, and salinity flux are continuous processes, which occasionally are punctuated by flooding, coastal storm surges, and environmental hazards. The Mississippi River delta is the product of avulsive flooding, in which a river leaves its channel, and migrates to another channel. On somewhat longer geologic time scales, the lower Mississippi River has migrated back and forth across its large delta, changing and shifting the large amounts of sediments it transports, and creating its current distinctive landforms and structure.
“Working coasts” like the Mississippi River delta adjust to and reap the fruits of these rich environmental systems, while accelerating some of the hazardous processes of erosion, flood damage, subsidence, and wetland loss. In addition to centuries of local knowledge, there is a wealth of deltaic research associated with water resources management in the lower Mississippi River, and also a need for new knowledge about emerging problems and challenges.
Water and environmental resources managers in the lower Mississippi River and its delta by no means are alone in facing these challenges, and indeed they are addressing them in new ways with the enthusiastic and ambitious adoption of the Louisiana 2012 Coastal Master Plan. The state’s Master Plan is very action-oriented and, at the same time, prompts important research questions on human-environment dynamics in the delta. Examples of this research would include monitoring and assessing outcomes
of large-scale proposed river water and sediment diversion projects, in the near term, and increasingly integrative research in the longer term.
Placed in a larger, global perspective, research on integrated water management in the Lower Mississippi River bears comparison with issues faced and addressed in other large deltas around the world. What insights might they offer for the Mississippi delta, and what might the Mississippi delta offer in scientific understanding and expertise for other regions?
This report’s sponsor, The Water Institute of the Gulf (Water Institute), asked the National Research Council’s Water Science and Technology Board to address these questions in this study. The Water Institute is a scientific organization in the Mississippi River delta established in 2011 with a focus on water and environmental resources, which will be informed and inspired in part by comparative international inquiry on large deltaic regions. We thank the Water Institute for its encouragement to think at a higher level about future research questions, both in the Mississippi River delta and in potential research connections with other deltas around the world.
We are grateful to experts who shared their knowledge about the Mississippi River delta. These include guest speakers at our 2012 meetings in Baton Rouge and Washington (see Appendix A), reviewers who helped greatly improve the report (listed below), and the NRC staff who provided leadership from beginning to end. Study director and Water Science and Technology Board director Jeffrey Jacobs has written a comparative paper on the Mississippi and Mekong rivers and provided expertise and guidance to the committee. Laura Ehlers served as study director when the project began, and oversaw organization of the committee’s first meeting and helped launch the project. Anita Hall and Michael Stoever ensured smooth logistics and provided editorial guidance throughout.
I offer my personal thanks to the committee members who prepared this report. It was an intellectual and personal pleasure to work together. The report was able to include many but not all ideas that committee members would have liked to include. In the course of this study, we found common ground in the pragmatic needs of the current situation in the lower Mississippi River delta, and an expansive scope for comparative research that can help advance large deltaic water and environmental management in the lower Mississippi River and in its engagement with other regions and peoples around the world. It is toward that fine balance between inquiry at home and around the world that we devote this study.
James L. Wescoat, Jr.