A Happy Accident: The Wax Lake Delta is Born

 

In 1941 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dug a flood relief outlet from the Atchafalaya River that extended out to the coastline.  This outlet provided a constant flow of water to be diverted from the River before reaching the banks of Morgan City, which had experienced several devastating floods.  The Wax Lake Outlet was designed to divert 30% of the flow from the Atchafalaya River, and has the capacity to carry a maximum of 440,000 cubic feet per second. 

Banner image from NASA Earth Observatory

 
 

 

 

Following the creation of the Wax Lake Outlet, the turbulent flow of water began to carry sediment down the outlet, which was promptly deposited at the mouth of the outlet.  As regular life carried on, no one realized that an underwater delta began to grow near the coast.

 

Images from NASA Earth Observatory

 

 

However, in 1973 an unusually cold winter coupled with high spring rains caused the Lower Mississippi River and Atchafalaya River to rise to flood levels for several months.  Though this infamous flood brought much destruction to the region, the high flow of the river carried a tremendous amount of sediment down through the Wax Lake Outlet.  Following the 1973 flood, it was first observed that visible land had broken the surface of the water near the mouth of the outlet.

 
 

 

 

This new land, now called the Wax Lake Delta, continued to grow naturally over the next few decades.  As the land grew in area and in height, plants and trees began to colonize the delta. Today the wetlands and willow trees within the delta provide valuable habitat for a variety of animals.