LSU unveiled a big, new model of the lower Mississippi River Monday. It will be used to simulate floods and help the state figure out how to use the river to rebuild the coast.
It’s fancy. Ten thousand square feet overall, which is bigger than two NBA basketball courts. The last leg of the Mississippi River is carved into it — from Donaldsonville down to the Birdsfoot Delta. They pump water through it to mimic the river, and overhead projectors can shine maps and pictures onto it. Final price tag: $18 million.
Clint Willson is the director of LSU’s Center for River Studies, and oversees the model.
"Sometimes," he says "I just look around and go, 'Wow. I can't believe this is happening.'"
Willson says he's been so excited for the grand opening that the day before felt like "Christmas Eve."
He says the model will mostly be used to study how the river responds to big modifications — things like sediment diversions, which could build land by diverting mucky water from the Mississippi River into eroding bays.
A lot of the modeling around diversions has been done with computer models. But Willson says physical models, like this one, are still important tools.
"The way we think about this," he explains, "is we're using multiple tools in order to insure that the best science and engineering is going into the planning and design of river sediment diversions."
It's also for public outreach — to educate students, engineers and scientists about coastal land loss.
The model was built by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, but is owned and operated by LSU.
Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and local listeners.
Correction: a previous version of this story misspelled Clint Willson's last name