Reddish Egret, Flickr

Mississippi River diversion project will protect critical bird habitats, Audubon Society says

The National Audubon Society has deemed the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, a $1.3 billion Mississippi River diversion planned for lower Plaquemines Parish, a key project necessary to protect and restore bird populations along the U.S. Gulf Coast, according to a new report from the environmental-advocacy group.

Thousands of additional acres of "critical habitat" for brown pelicans, reddish egrets and other bird species could be created through the massive, if controversial, diversion project, said Kara Lankford, director of Gulf Coast restoration at the Audubon Society, during a conference call to discuss the release of the new study.

Lankford called the project "transformative." The diversion, which would cut a gap in the Mississippi River levee to allow freshwater and sediment into sinking areas of the Louisiana coast, could build 8,000 acres in 20 years and 30,000 acres in 50 years, according to estimates cited in the report.

"Enhancing wetlands throughout the Barataria Basin would safeguard critical habitat for important birds and other wildlife," the report says. "These new and sustained wetlands would provide a buffer from storm surge for communities and industry" as well, it adds.

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