Depositional dynamics in a river diversion receiving basin: The case of the West Bay Mississippi River Diversion
River deltas are a globally distributed class of sedimentary environment that are highly productive, ecologically diverse and serve as centers for population and commerce. Many deltas are also in a state of environmental degradation, and the Mississippi River Delta (MRD) stands out as a particularly iconic example. Plans to restore the MRD call for partially diverting the Mississippi River, which should reinitiate natural deltaic land-building processes. While the basic physical underpinnings of river diversions are relatively straightforward, there exists a considerable controversy over whether diversions can and do deliver enough sediment to the coastal zone to build sub-aerial land on restoration-dependent time scales. This controversy was addressed through a study of crevasse-splay dynamics at the West Bay Mississippi River Diversion, the largest diversion in the MRD that was specifically constructed for coastal restoration. We found that most sediments were distributed over a 13.5 km area, with the maximum deposition occurring at the seaward end of this field. These results indicate substantial sediment deposition downstream of project boundaries and run counter to simple sedimentary models, which predict that maximum sediment deposition should occur closest to the riverbank. Despite this, most sediments appear to be retained in the nearshore zone, suggesting that the sediment retention efficiency was at the higher end of the 30-70% range suggested by some sediment budgets.