Standing on a levee overlooking New Orleans’ Bayou Bienvenue, you can see skeletons of dead trees scattered across the open water, a hint at what was once there: a thriving cypress-tupelo swamp that helped protect the city’s Lower Ninth Ward from damaging hurricanes.
But all that changed starting in the late 1950s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), a 76-mile-long channel intended to provide a navigation shortcut from central New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico. Completed in 1968, the project destroyed 27,000 acres of local wetlands, including Bayou Bienvenue’s cypress swamp. Adding in erosion and salinity changes caused by the channel in subsequent years, the MRGO (known locally as “Mister Go”) negatively impacted a total of 600,000 acres of wetlands in the Greater New Orleans area.
Now an ambitious plan crafted by the MRGO Must Go Coalition seeks to bring back these critical wetlands. Launched in 2006 in the wake of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, the 17-member coalition—coordinated by NWF—brought together scientists, environmentalists and local communities to raise awareness of the role the MRGO played in worsening Katrina’s damage. Although parts of the Lower Ninth Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish are at higher elevations than much of the city, they experienced the most catastrophic flooding due to increased storm surge and levee breaches directly attributable to the channel. Today, six years after Katrina, these communities still are home to just a fraction of the number of residents they once had. READ MORE >>