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Atchafalaya River

Atchafalaya River

Overview



The Atchafalaya River is a 137 miles (220 km) distributary
Distributary
A distributary, or a distributary channel, is a stream that branches off and flows away from a main stream channel. They are a common feature of river deltas. The phenomenon is known as river bifurcation. The opposite of a distributary is a tributary...

 of the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 and Red River in south central Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. It flows south, just west of the Mississippi River.
The Atchafalaya River is navigable and provides a significant industrial shipping channel for the state of Louisiana, as well as the cultural heart of the Cajun Country. The maintenance of the river as a navigable channel of the Mississippi River has been a significant project of the U.S.
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The Atchafalaya River is a 137 miles (220 km) distributary
Distributary
A distributary, or a distributary channel, is a stream that branches off and flows away from a main stream channel. They are a common feature of river deltas. The phenomenon is known as river bifurcation. The opposite of a distributary is a tributary...

 of the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 and Red River in south central Louisiana
Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. It flows south, just west of the Mississippi River.
The Atchafalaya River is navigable and provides a significant industrial shipping channel for the state of Louisiana, as well as the cultural heart of the Cajun Country. The maintenance of the river as a navigable channel of the Mississippi River has been a significant project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for over a century. The river valley forms the Atchafalaya Basin
Atchafalaya Basin
The Atchafalaya Basin, or Atchafalaya Swamp, is the largest swamp in the United States. Located in south central Louisiana, it is a combination of wetlands and river delta area where the Atchafalaya River and the Gulf of Mexico converge. The river stretches from near Simmesport in the north...

 and Atchafalaya Swamp located in southern Louisiana near the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

.

The river is formed near Simmesport
Simmesport, Louisiana
Simmesport is a town in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, United States. The population was 2,239 at the 2000 census.During the American Civil War, Union General Nathaniel P. Banks was superseded in command by E.R.S. Canby. General Ulysses S. Grant had sought Banks' removal for months, but U.S....

 at the confluence of the Red River with the Mississippi, where the Mississippi connects to the Red River by the 7 miles (11 km) canalized Old River
Old River
Old River may refer to:* Old River * Old River * Old River Places* Old River, CaliforniaOther* Old River Control Structure, connecting the Red River to the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers...

. It receives the water of the Red as well as roughly 30% of the water of the lower Mississippi (the other 70% continues in its main channel to the southeast). The volume the Atchafalaya receives from the Mississippi is controlled by the Old River Control Structure
Old River Control Structure
The Old River Control Structure is a floodgate system located in a branch of the Mississippi River in central Louisiana. It regulates the flow of water leaving the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya River, thereby preventing the Mississippi river from changing course. Completed in 1963, the...

, a system of dams and spillways near Red River Landing, Louisiana, and in times of extreme flooding the Morganza Spillway
Morganza Spillway
The Morganza Spillway or Morganza Control Structure is a flood-control structure in the U.S. state of Louisiana along the western bank of the Mississippi River at river mile 280, near Morganza in Pointe Coupee Parish. The spillway stands between the Mississippi and the Morganza Floodway, which...

 further downstream. If the Mississippi were allowed to flow freely, the Atchafalaya would capture the main flow of the Mississippi, permitting the Mississippi to bypass its current path through Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Baton Rouge is the capital of the U.S. state of Louisiana. It is located in East Baton Rouge Parish and is the second-largest city in the state.Baton Rouge is a major industrial, petrochemical, medical, and research center of the American South...

 and New Orleans. Despite control efforts, some researchers believe the likelihood of this event increases each year due to natural forces inherent to river deltas. The Atchafalaya River meander
Meander
A meander in general is a bend in a sinuous watercourse. A meander is formed when the moving water in a stream erodes the outer banks and widens its valley. A stream of any volume may assume a meandering course, alternately eroding sediments from the outside of a bend and depositing them on the...

s south as a channel of the Mississippi, through extensive levee
Levee
A levee, levée, dike , embankment, floodbank or stopbank is an elongated naturally occurring ridge or artificially constructed fill or wall, which regulates water levels...

s and floodways, past Morgan City
Morgan City, Louisiana
Morgan City is a city in St. Martin and St. Mary parishes in the U.S. state of Louisiana. The population was 12,404 at the 2010 census....

, and empties into the Gulf in Atchafalaya Bay approximately 15 miles (24.1 km) south of Morgan City. The river is now forming a new delta in the bay, the only place on the Louisiana coastline that is gaining ground.

The name "Atchafalaya" comes from Choctaw
Choctaw language
The Choctaw language, traditionally spoken by the Native American Choctaw people of the southeastern United States, is a member of the Muskogean family...

 for "long river", from hachcha, "river", and falaya, "long".

Louisiana Public Broadcasting
Louisiana Public Broadcasting
Louisiana Public Broadcasting is a state-run, viewer-supported state network of Public Broadcasting Service non-commercial educational Public television member stations serving the state of Louisiana outside Greater New Orleans. The stations are operated by the Louisiana Educational Television...

, under president Beth Courtney
Beth Courtney
Elizabeth G. Courtney, known as Beth Courtney , has since 1985 been the president and CEO of Louisiana Public Broadcasting, her state's educational technology resources center based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana...

, produced the documentary Atchafalaya Houseboat.

See also

  • List of Louisiana rivers
  • Mississippi River Delta
    Mississippi River Delta
    The Mississippi River Delta is the modern area of land built up by alluvium deposited by the Mississippi River as it slows down and enters the Gulf of Mexico...

  • Atchafalaya Basin
    Atchafalaya Basin
    The Atchafalaya Basin, or Atchafalaya Swamp, is the largest swamp in the United States. Located in south central Louisiana, it is a combination of wetlands and river delta area where the Atchafalaya River and the Gulf of Mexico converge. The river stretches from near Simmesport in the north...

  • Old River Control Structure
    Old River Control Structure
    The Old River Control Structure is a floodgate system located in a branch of the Mississippi River in central Louisiana. It regulates the flow of water leaving the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya River, thereby preventing the Mississippi river from changing course. Completed in 1963, the...

  • 2011 Mississippi River floods
    2011 Mississippi River floods
    The Mississippi River floods in April and May 2011 were among the largest and most damaging recorded along the U.S. waterway in the past century, comparable in extent to the major floods of 1927 and 1993. In April 2011, two major storm systems deposited record levels of rainfall on the Mississippi...


External links