Frequently Asked Questions About The MRGO
What is the MRGO?
The Army Corps of Engineers constructed the MRGO in the 1960s as a shortcut for navigation between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. Its full name is the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, but most locals call it “Mister Go”. The MRGO resulted in severely damaged wetlands (tens of thousands of acres) that once protected communities in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish from storms.
The MRGO increased Hurricane Katrina's destructive power by:
Destroying our natural storm buffer. The construction, use, and maintenance of the MRGO caused the loss of 27,600 acres of wetlands and converted an additional 38,000 acres to higher salinity habitats. During Katrina, levees that were protected by wetlands remained intact. But levees exposed to open water—like those along the banks of the MRGO—failed.
Increasing the storm surge. The south bank of the MRGO levee and the north bank of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) levee form a funnel that focused wind-driven flood waters into the heart of the New Orleans metropolitan area and St. Bernard Parish. During Katrina, the funnel increased the height and velocity of the surge and contributed to the failure of levees and floodwalls.
The MRGO was an economic burden. The amount of ship traffic—which never reached expected levels—has decreased while maintenance costs have increased. In 2003, each trip up or down the channel cost the American taxpayer nearly $20,000.
I thought the MRGO was “gone”. The rock dam is complete and that the surge barrier across the Golden Triangle is under construction... Isn’t that enough?No. The rock dam was a small step toward restoring the area affected by the MRGO. The dam has reduced the amount of salt water flowing from the Gulf of Mexico into Lake Pontchartrain, and has closed the channel to navigation. It will not protect communities from hurricane-induced waves and surge. The surge barrier closes the funnel, but will redirect surge water elsewhere—potentially putting more stress on the MRGO levees or communities to the east of the barrier.
Congress directed the Corps to develop a comprehensive closure plan for the MRGO by May 2008 that included wetland restoration. The Corps estimates a May 2010 date for the draft restoration plan and EIS—making them more than two years behind schedule.
Why do we need a reintroduce fresh water at Violet?
The Violet Diversion will distribute freshwater and a small amount of sediment to the Central Wetlands and Biloxi Marshes. Construction of Violet should be a top priority, because other key projects in the MRGO study area depend on its performance. Get the Fact Sheet 544Kb
What else needs to be done to restore the wetlands?
Restoration of the wetlands will require a combination of techniques that build land, re-establish the natural salinity and flow of water, and protect shorelines. Please visit our What Do We Need to Do page to learn more.
Won’t it cost a lot of money to close the MRGO and restore the wetlands?
Yes. But the cost pales next to the multi-billion dollar risk that the Greater New Orleans Area and St. Bernard Parish face as long as wetlands decimated by the MRGO are not restored.
This sounds like it will take a long time. How do I protect myself from hurricanes now?
Even if the Corps stays on track with planning and project implementation, they can’t rebuild the wetlands overnight. The best way to protect yourself from a hurricane is to evacuate. Elevating your house and business will help protect your assets in the short-term, and can increase your total level of protection once levee improvements and wetland restoration projects have been completed.
What can I do to help?
People like you got us far—the MRGO closed to navigation, and a restoration plan forthcoming. Now, we need your help to keep the Corps on track and ensure the plan they devise will protect communities and our cultural heritage.
Please visit our Action Center to learn more about what you can do to help.
Thanks for your support!