Atchafalaya River, Louisiana. Modified from USGS.
ATCHAFALAYA BASIN EXPEDITION in the MISSISSIPPI RIVER BASIN
October 19 to November 5, 2011
Team Members: NWNL Director Alison M. Jones and Photographer Gussie Baker
NO WATER NO LIFE (NWNL): This expedition-based project combines the powers of photography and science to raise public awareness of the planet’s freshwater crisis and sustainable management strategies. NWNL is documenting six African and North American watersheds in order to educate the public, help change behaviors and generate greater protection of our fresh-water resources. NWNL is funded by grants, private donors and in-kind gifts, and has been granted expedition flags from The Explorers Club and Wings World Quest. The latter is a nonprofit supporting science education, exploration and conservation that provides 501c3 status to NWNL donors.
Mississippi River water discharge into the Atchafalaya, Old River Control Structure, LA. CC2 photo by Tobin
THE ATCHAFALAYA RIVER BASIN: A distributary of the Mississippi and Red Rivers, Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River is just 144 miles long; yet only 4 rivers discharge more water to N. America’s coast. Its deltaic basin, the largest over-flow swamp in the US, is over 800,000 acres, 17 miles wide on average and 60 miles long. After the 1927 Flood, hydrologists predicted the Atchafalaya could capture the Mississippi by the 1950’s. To save New Orleans, the US Army Corps of Engineers built the Old River Control Structure to contain the Mississippi. 2011 floods presented the greatest test of that infrastructure thus far, requiring opening bays of the Morganza Spillway. Other Atchafalaya Basin concerns include:
Climate change impacts on the intensity of hurricanes and flooding
Infrastructure and dredging impacts on ecosystems, species habitat and traditional river usage
Oil spills and invasive species impacts on bays, bayous and other habitats of estuarine biota
Channelization impacts on erosion, hypoxia and changed patterns of sedimentation and storage
Natural resource extraction (of timber, oil, gas, aquatic and terrestrial species) impacts on the ecosystem
Delta subsidence and coastal erosion’s impacts on sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion
Boys fishing in a bayou. Schriever, LA, June 1940. Photo: Marion Post Wolcott/Library of Congress.
EXPEDITION METHODOLOGY: This Atchafalaya Expedition, in coordination with NWNL scientific research, will create still and video documentation of wetlands and infrastructure issues and will interview stakeholders and stewards involved in conservation and restoration. Following the expedition, resulting materials will be publicized, shared with other watershed stewards, and used as educational tools. Products from all NWNL expeditions are disseminated via print and online media, exhibits, and lectures; and expedition results are combined with other NWNL watersheds so they may be used as a reference for global solutions. Prior Mississippi River Basin documentation produced by NWNL includes:
1993 Expedition: “The Great Mississippi Flood: as seen from St. Charles, Ste. Genevieve and the Ozarks”
2008 Expedition: “The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem: Missouri-Mississippi Headwaters”
2008 Expedition: “The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta: No Water No Cotton”
EXPEDITION FOCUS: This expedition will further document NWNL themes established in 2007, particularly:
Effects of infrastructure on eco-systems, flora, fauna, and human economies
Indigenous cultures’ use of waterways as a source of sustenance and spiritual values
Estuarine threats and restoration where fresh and marine systems meet
Other cross-watershed issues to be examined include river swamp hydrology, land-cover changes, natural and manmade factors impacting sediment loads and water levels, community adaptation, historic and current local economies, and species conservation. NWNL will visit the Basin via helicopter or plane, boat and car starting from the Old River Control Structure, moving across bayous, bays and lakes, and finishing on the Gulf of Mexico.
EXPEDITION ENDORSEMENTS: NWNL thanks those who have endorsed its Mississippi River expeditions and its funders in general. NWNL thanks The Explorers Club, The International League of Conservation Photographers and the NWNL fiscal sponsor Wings World Quest for their support of No Water No Life from its inception in 2007.