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Fishermen are worried about a new plan to divert the Mississippi River

Mississippi River project
Posted at 10:05 AM, Aug 11, 2022

PORT SULPHUR, La. — On an unusually cool August day in Louisiana, Ray Vagh looks out over the Mississippi River Delta where he has fished almost all his life, and he sees a storm of uncertainty rolling in off the horizon.

Vagh is a fifth-generation fisherman. The waters off the Gulf of Mexico have provided Vagh and his family with their livelihood for a century. But the waters here are rising, and more intense storms are eroding the coast—all of which are changing the fishing industry as well.

It's changing so much that Vagh now uses his fishing boat to haul rocks out to sea in hopes of giving the oysters he harvests something to latch on to as land in the Mississippi River Delta continues to disappear.

"This is what we gotta do now to stay alive," Vagh said standing on the back of his fishing boat.

He is not the only one taking note of rising sea levels out here though. For years, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has been working on a plan to preserve the coastline here. The proposed idea is called the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project. The plan is to move sediment through a channel about seven miles south into a section of the Mississippi Delta that was once all wetlands.

"We weren't going to be able to do nothing; change was coming," said Brian Lezina, chief of planning for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Last year, we got an up-close look at a model researchers are using to study the sediment diversion project. But now, the project is coming under a firestorm of criticism from the unintended consequences of diverting the world's 15th largest river.

"Putting this diversion is going to put me and a lot of people out of business," Vagh said about the changes he's worried the project will cause to the areas he fishes in.

For the patchwork of rural communities along the Mississippi, this feels like just another blow to save urban areas like New Orleans.

"We need to protect my house and the highway to get to my house. However, if I don't have a business, I have nothing to come to work for, so do I care if it's gone?" Vagh added.