What is Louisiana?

     This is my first entry on a quadruple-stumper since I said I was going to start writing them again (which means I’ve been able to blog about each day’s episode, except when I blogged about True Grit).  This is my selection, which comes from Thursday‘s episode (category Try State Area): “Land area 43,562 square miles, about 2,000 less than a century ago.”
     I chose this clue because I couldn’t figure out at first why Louisiana had less land than just a century ago.  I didn’t know if it had to do with something natural or something historical, and I wasn’t sure where to look.  I thought someone would surely know on the message boards, but I kinda thought that was cheating.  I tried several things:

  • asked “Louise” on Louisiana’s official site
  • e-mailed several people from the Louisiana Office of Tourism
  • e-mailed Bob Marshall, the author of this article on global warming and Louisiana (I thank him for his response.)
  • e-mailed someone at Louisiana’s Coastal Activities Office.  Chuck Perrodin, who says he is a big Jeopardy! fan, responded, and I thank him.  His response was so thoughtful I wished I could just copy-and-paste the whole thing. 🙂

     A gentleman from the Louisiana Office of Tourism, Jeff Richard, also replied in detail.  He says that Louisiana is losing land due to coastal erosion.  He says the state is formed by sediment coming down the Mississippi River, so the state’s land is rather brittle.  He says:

     The soils would historically be replenished when the Mississippi and Atchafalaya
     rivers (the latter another major south Louisiana waterway) and major south
     Louisiana “bayous” (small rivers fed somewhat by the bigger ones) would flood
     every spring due to the melting of snow and ice in the northern U.S. and deposit
     a new layer of fresh river sediment all over south Louisiana. This changed,
     however, with the Mississippi River experienced the Great Flood of 1927. It
     devastated states along the river corridor and along major tributaries, killing
     over 200 people and causing $400 million in damages. Hundreds of thousands of
     people were left homeless in Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and
     several other states.

     He says after that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built levees to prevent future floods.  It’s worked, including this year, but the downside is that there are no new sediments deposits from the Mississippi River.  Erosion from the Gulf of Mexico “beating” the coast is also a factor, as well as hurricanes and subsequent sea surges.
     This is sad because when land disappears, history and culture do too, as does flora and fauna, which act as natural “buffers” to the sea surges.  Perrodin says that some of the Mississippi River water and sediment can be diverted “in a proven manner that will not affect flooding or river navigation,” but change is slow in coming.  Richard encourages you to visit www.americaswetland.com to see how you can help.  He says, “Louisiana can’t fight this battle by itself.”  He also recommends www.louisianatravel.com, and adds, “I assure you and your audience our coastal issues do not affect our ability to provide all kinds of fun for visitors.”
     I got lucky that so many people responded so quickly, and two days before Christmas.  Lesson learned?  Plan ahead.  And I will.