Like most of south Louisiana, the Barataria Preserve is crisscrossed by miles of waterways (see for yourself on this map). Winding through forest, swamp, and marsh are natural waterways like the once mighty Bayou des Familles, which hundreds of years ago was a deep, wide distributary of the Mississippi River. The straight lines of human-made waterways like Kenta Canal were built for purposes like drainage, irrigation, and access for loggers.
Water is always on the move through the system. The naturally winding bayous slow down the movement of water: silt drops out, leaves and branches fall in, and the bayou slowly fills in and becomes land. The straight lines of canals allow water to move faster: canals stay navigable longer, but brackish water can enter freshwater areas more easily, often killing plants sensitive to salt, and few plants and faster water mean more erosion.
Managing the preserve's waterways is an interesting challenge, and any management choice is only a temporary fix. Should naturally occuring waterways be left to natural processes? What if the vegetation clogging a bayou is an invasive species? Should human-made canals be filled in? What happens to recreational canoeing, fishing, and access for scientists and rangers when waterways become inaccessible? The park's goal is to strike a balance between digging out and filling in.
Digging out: Twin Canals, Kenta Canal, Bayou Coquille, and Bayou des Familles are favorites of canoers and kayakers. Waterways are also used by hunters, fishers, scientists, and park rangers. Because some of the preserve's most important waterways are filling in due to downed trees, bank erosion, and thick vegetation, selected areas are being dredged. Silt from the waterway's bottom is suctioned out and sprayed onto the bank, and the deeper waterway will allow continued human access to important parts of the preserve.
Filling in: In other areas, park management is accelerating land creation in canals. In 2010, a project to reclaim more than 20 miles of canals began. Environmentally sound methods are being used so the process will be slow, and most canals will remain open for decades. Canals will be filled depending on funding availability, and the majority of the project remains unfunded. Special care will be taken with regularly used canals so that users will continue to have access. For more information, visit the project page.