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New Mississippi River Model To Help Study Coastal Land Loss

Louisiana State University
An inside look at the new model of the lower Mississippi River at LSU's Center for River Studies.

LSU unveiled a big, new model of the lower Mississippi River Monday. It will be used to simulate floods and help the state figure out how to use the river to rebuild the coast.

It’s fancy. Ten thousand square feet overall, which is bigger than two NBA basketball courts. The last leg of the Mississippi River is carved into it — from Donaldsonville down to the Birdsfoot Delta. They pump water through it to mimic the river, and overhead projectors can shine maps and pictures onto it. Final price tag: $18 million.

Clint Willson is the director of LSU’s Center for River Studies, and oversees the model.

"Sometimes," he says "I just look around and go, 'Wow. I can't believe this is happening.'"


Willson says he's been so excited for the grand opening that the day before felt like "Christmas Eve."


He says the model will mostly be used to study how the river responds to big modifications — things like sediment diversions, which could build land by diverting mucky water from the Mississippi River into eroding bays.


A lot of the modeling around diversions has been done with computer models. But Willson says physical models, like this one, are still important tools.


"The way we think about this," he explains, "is we're using multiple tools in order to insure that the best science and engineering is going into the planning and design of river sediment diversions."


It's also for public outreach — to educate students, engineers and scientists about coastal land loss.


The model was built by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, but is owned and operated by LSU.


Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and local listeners.


Correction: a previous version of this story misspelled Clint Willson's last name

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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