NEW ORLEANS — Accumulating sediment within the lower Mississippi River could, when coupled with a major flood, cause the river to abandon its current course, potentially ruining the drinking water source for roughly 1.5 million people, according to new research presented here today.
The Mississippi River is an alluvial river, meaning its course is shaped by sediment and floods, and its floor is composed of loose, moving sands and soils. Because of these qualities, the river naturally changes course every 1,000 to 1,500 years. The Old River Control Structure, a 54-year-old floodgate system, manages the flow of the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya River, which runs parallel to and west of the Mississippi. This system prevents the Mississippi from flooding and changing its course.