Preventing spilled oil from invading the fragile Louisiana wetlands—where it would be virtually impossible to remove without severely damaging the ecosystem—is an urgent priority of relief workers in the Gulf of Mexico. A variety of defense measures have been suggested, including the use of rocks and barges to block the oil from entering the bays, and the construction of huge sand piles that would stand 6 feet taller than the Gulf's average high-water mark and, hopefully, shield the coastline.
Last week, G. Paul Kemp, a former professor of marine science at Louisiana State University and current vice president of the National Audubon Society's Louisiana Coastal Initiative, sent a memo to the Environmental Protection Agency proposing an additional strategy, which calls for using upstream dams to increase the flow of the Mississippi River into the Gulf. Kemp says the river is "the biggest tool in the toolbox" when it comes to keeping oil out Louisiana's swamps and marshes, which make up nearly 40 percent of the nation's wetlands.
For the most part, the winds have kept the oil plume from moving toward the Louisiana coast, Kemp says, instead pushing it toward Florida and Alabama. Last month, the winds shifted to the northwest. Even then, when the oil seemed as though it should have been blowing towards the mouth of the river, it didn't, says Denise Reed, a proponent of Kemp's plan and professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of New Orleans. "That seems to be because there's been enough water coming out of the mouth of the river to have a little bit of a push out into the Gulf of Mexico," Reed says.
Since then, however, the water level in the Mississippi has dropped off drastically, due to seasonal changes in climate. "Time is of the essence. Every day we are losing another 40,000 to 50,000 cubic feet per second out of the river. I'm very concerned that all we need is a shift in the winds offshore, and when the oil comes in this time there won't be enough to keep it from coming into the interior of the marshes," Kemp says.
CONTINUED: Mississippi River to Protect Coast BP Oil Spill - Dams and Coastal BP Oil - Popular Mechanics