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Mississippi River Flooding Creates Louisiana, Venice Comparison

In an audio slideshow, Zoe Sullivan examines the similarities in approach for the Mississippi Delta and the fabled city of Venice in dealing with floods and loss of natural wetlands.
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As spring thaws and storms dump water into middle America's rivers, floods have been wreaking havoc along the Mississippi River and its watershed. Memphis has been hard hit, and thousands of acres of farmland have been submerged.

Some 12,000 acres of farmland flooded on May 12 in Louisiana when the river overtopped a natural levee. Emergency steps are being planned to protect Baton Rouge, New Orleans and the string of petrochemical and petroleum plants between the two, but flooding is simply the natural state of the river in spring.

At this time of year, the river carries a large load of sediment that prior to the construction of levees, was deposited on the land surrounding the river, making it rich and fertile, and expanding the reach of the land itself into the Gulf of Mexico. Experts say as a result of damming upriver and levees along the Mississippi's course, Louisiana's "bird's foot" is retracting at an average rate of 25 square miles a year.

The Mississippi Delta is hardly the only place dealing with flooding and land-loss issues. Venice lies at the heart of the largest wetland system in the Mediterranean. The Italian city has also seen dramatic increases in its flooding over the past 30 years as industrial development has broken down its natural barriers to the sea: its wetlands.

In Louisiana, the wetlands offer a home to fish and wildlife, and its coast is home to some of the most productive fisheries in the country. It also provides a floodwall when hurricanes come knocking. In Venice, the wetlands helped buffer the city from large shifts in tide while also contributing salt, clams and fish to the city's economy.

Yet, like Louisiana, Venice has chosen to invest substantially in an engineering solution to this problem. In spite of this, scientists and critics in both places suggest that developing different coping strategies will be essential in order to deal with the increasing number of environmental crises that threaten human settlements. The following audio slideshow examines the similarities between the two locales and their approaches:

(Venice-area photos also contributed by Giuliano Brandoli)

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