Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Canals, backfilling and wetland loss in the Mississippi Delta

August 8, 2019

Canals and spoil banks have contributed significantly to high rates of wetland loss in the Mississippi delta. There has been relatively little research on management of canals and spoil banks and this needs to be a significant component of restoration of the delta. We analyze research on the role of backfilling canals in the context of delta restoration with special reference to Turner and McClenachan (2018) who state that if all canals were backfilled, it could significantly reduce or even reverse wetland loss and that most wetland loss is caused by canals. We agree with T&M that canals have been a significant cause of wetland loss in the Mississippi Delta and that removing spoil banks and backfilling canals should be an integral part of delta restoration. However, a number of factors need to be considered when choosing which canals to backfill including possible enhanced erosion due to exposure to wave action for newly created and remnant marsh, the current and future production history of oil and natural gas from canals, and other restoration activities in oil and gas fields. Turner and McClenachan’s analysis using wetland loss patterns in 15-minute quadrangles suggesting that canal density can explain most wetland loss in coastal Louisiana is flawed because of scale problems and other impacts of oil and gas activity. These impacts include subsurface induced subsidence and the impact of produced water and toxins on wetlands that are largely unrelated to surface alteration due to canals and spoil banks.