Sediment discharge into a subsiding Louisiana deltaic estuary through a Mississippi River diversion
Wetlands of the Mississippi River deltaic plain in southeast Louisiana have been hydrologically isolated from the Mississippi River by containment levees for nearly a century. The ensuing lack of fluvial sediment inputs, combined with natural submergence processes, has contributed to high coastal land loss rates. Controlled river diversions have since been constructed to reconnect the marshes of the deltaic plain with the river. This study examines the impact of a pulsed diversion management plan on sediment discharge into the Breton Sound estuary, in which duplicate 185m3s-1-diversions lasting two weeks each were conducted in the spring of 2002 and 2003. Sediment delivery during each pulse was highly variable (11,300-43,800metrictons), and was greatest during rising limbs of Mississippi River flood events. Overland flow, a necessary transport mechanism for river sediments to reach the subsiding backmarsh regions, was induced only when diversion discharge exceeded 100m3s-1. These results indicate that timing and magnitude of diversion events are both important factors governing marsh sediment deposition in the receiving basins of river diversions. Though the diversion serves as the primary source of river sediments to the estuary, the inputs observed here were several orders of magnitude less than historical sediment discharge through crevasses and uncontrolled diversions in the region, and are insufficient to offset present rates of relative sea level rise.