Destroying Levees in Louisiana

The Nature Conservancy plans to restore wetlands along the Ouachita River.

| June 2009 Web

  • With the destruction of the levees, Mollicy Farms, located to the left of the Ouachita River, will someday match the Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge, located to the right.
    By Steve Haase/ Courtesy The Nature Conservancy

Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was...gone.

While this might not be the day the music died, one levee along the Ouachita River in Louisiana will soon find itself facing destruction—and it’s actually a good thing.

Although people have been battling river flooding since the colonial days, and disasters such as Hurricane Katrina bring appeals for more and stronger levees, these levees actually come at a huge environmental cost. Cypress forests and wetlands vanish, while coastal marshes yield to the Gulf of Mexico because of a lack of sediment to sustain them. The fish and wildlife that once lived in these habitats vanish with them.

However, at Mollicy Farms along the Ouachita River, all that is about to change. Two brothers, Keith and Kelby Ouchley, are leading the charge to bring down miles of levee and to restore about 25 square miles of habitat. Keith Ouchley heads the Louisiana operations for the Nature Conservancy, which is organizing and financing the levee breaking efforts. Kelby Ouchley is the former manager of the Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge, which is located across the river from Mollicy Farms.

Keith Ouchley says the project will “eliminate the risk of catastrophic levee failure, alleviate flooding downstream, improve water quality, and enhance fish and wildlife habitats.”

The most important part of the project, however, might just be the idea that levees can come down. This will be the biggest levee busting project ever to take place in the United States, and may open the way to restoring more natural wetlands. When the levee broke naturally in May of this year, it actually reduced the flood risk to Monroe City, downstream.

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