On June 19, Christopher Rice from The Nature Conservancy spoke at the Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge in Crossett, Ark. about the Conservancy's work at Mollicy Farms in Morehouse Parish.
The theme for the presentation was “Bringing Floodplain Restoration to Scale: the Mollicy Farm Project in Northeast Louisiana," and Rice, a University of Louisiana at Monroe graduate, focused on bringing the scope of the project to scale by utilizing aerial images and still photographs of the land when it functioned as a farm, as the restoration project was underway and now, as the restoration work beings to wind down.
Rice explained that the work at Mollicy Farms, which included reconnecting the historic 16,000 acre floodplain back to the Ouachita River, is the showcase piece for the Nature Conservancy and is the largest floodplain restoration project in the entirety of U.S. history and may be the largest restoration project in the world.
From the projects inception, its goal has been to undo damage done to the Ouachita river and the land at Mollicy since the 1960s when the floodplain was cleared of trees and vegetation and blocked off from the river by a 150 foot wide, 30 foot high levee that stretched 17 miles around the perimeter of the property.
The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services have planted trees on the site, reestablished streams with natural s-curves to promote sediment filtering and breached the levee at strategic locations to allow the Ouachita to flood back into the plain without altering the course of the river.
Mother nature also helped with that last goal. In 2009, the levee broke in two places while the Ouachita River was high. The floodwaters gushed into Mollify and filled the entire 16,000 like a bathtub according to Rice.
These unforeseen breaches delayed the artificial breaches and killed approximately 60 percent of the trees planted on Mollicy but did mark the first time the land had connected to the river in decades.
Since then the levee was strategically breached in additional locations, additional trees were planted and long-term project monitoring efforts were stepped up.
As Mollicy moves away from active restoration, the focus will now be on measuring the effects of the reconnection by monitoring the water that floods into the location, measuring the water quality of the Ouachita River now that the floodplain once again acts as a natural filter and measuring the amount of wildlife that returns to the site.
According to Rice, the goal for Mollicy was to restore functionality to the floodplain since historic conditions could never be reobtained. As the Nature Conservancy begins to shift focus away from the site, the organization is looking to find more places like Mollicy to restore and may look toward the backwater areas located between major rivers and their levees.