Influence of Increased Freshwater Inflow on Nitrogen and Phosphorus Budgets in a Dynamic Subtropical Estuary, Barataria Basin, Louisiana

May 23, 2023

Author(s): William Nuttle, Melissa M. Baustian

Coastal Louisiana is currently experiencing high rates of wetland loss and large-scale ecosystem restoration is being implemented. One of the largest and most novel restoration projects is a controlled sediment diversion, proposed to rebuild and sustain wetlands by diverting sediment- and nutrient-rich water from the Mississippi River. However, the impact of this proposed sediment diversion on the nutrient budget of the receiving basin is largely unknown. A water quality model was developed to investigate the impact of the planned Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion on the nutrient budget of the Barataria Basin (herein referred to as ‘the Basin’). The model results indicate that the planned diversion will increase TN and TP pools by about 38% and 17%, respectively, even with TN and TP loadings that increase by >300%. Water quality model results suggest that the increase of nutrients in the basin will be mitigated by increased advection transport (i.e., decreased residence time from ~170 days to ~40 days, leading to greater flushing) and increased removal via assimilation, denitrification, and settling within the Basin. Advection transport resulted in higher TN removal in the Basin than other processes, such as uptake or denitrification. Approximately 25% of the additional TN loading and 30% of the additional TP loading were processed within the Basin through the assimilation of phytoplankton and wetland vegetation, denitrification, and burial in the sediment/soils. These nutrient budgets help to better understand how the planned large-scale sediment diversion project may change the future ecological conditions within the estuaries of coastal Louisiana and near-shore northern Gulf of Mexico. Paper here.