Wax Lake Outlet: Just About The Greenest Accidental Delta You Ever Saw

Aug 14, 2014

Waterlillies bloom in the Wax Lake Delta.
Credit Eve Troeh / WWNO
WWNO News Director Eve Troeh talks to Ben Weber of the National Wildlife Foundation.
Credit Jesse Hardman / WWNO

Those who have been lucky enough to travel to the Wax Lake Delta are prone to gush about it. Just ask Ben Weber, who leads trips to the area as an outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation.

From above one can see how the lush, green Delta has spread out into the Gulf over time, a bit of an outlier in a region now more used to seeing coastal land retreat due to sea level rise and erosion.

Wax Lake Outlet 1983 - 2011
Credit USGS

The reason for this phenomenon is a 1941 intervention by the Army Corps of Engineers in the Atchafalaya River basin to reduce flooding in Morgan City. The Corps dredged the Wax Lake Outlet, and over time that river basin filled with sediment, providing a hospitable environment for marshland to thrive. 

The Wax Lake Delta is the bi-product of what's called a diversion, a channel deliberately created to flow from the Mississippi River into wetland areas.

Here's an extended explanation of diversions by Dr. John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

In the case of the Wax Lake Outlet, the diversion was created in response to flooding. Nowadays diversions — or freshwater diversions as they are most commonly known — are part of environmental restoration plans for the Gulf Coast. With Wax Lake as Exhibit A, diversions are thought of as the best chance for restoring lost wetlands.

Ivy St. Romain is the owner of Ivy's Tackle Box in Morgan City. He's on the Wax Lake Outlet a lot, chartering fishing and hunting trips. He loves the wildlife in his area, and as a result is a big proponent of freshwater diversions. 

Opposition to diversions has mostly come from fishermen who have enjoyed the fruits of salt water coming in closer to the outer parts of Louisiana, bringing certain species of fish and other sea animals with it. 

Speckled Trout are thriving in the Wax Lake Delta.
Credit Jesse Hardman / WWNO

But Dr. Paul Kemp, a Coastal Oceanographer and Geologist at LSU, says most people given the chance to experience a thriving Delta, like Wax Lake would be hard pressed to not advocate for the use of freshwater diversions as a way to restore coastal wetlands.

"It's an existential thing really," Kemp says. "We've been working on this for a long time, and we haven't come up with a better way to do it, better than what nature figured out billions of years ago." 

Wax Lake Delta spreads out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Credit Jesse Hardman / WWNO

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