Basin advocates – Henderson Mayor Sherbin Collette (right) and Town Councilman Jody Meche sought parish council support for an ambitious new initiative to improve water flow through the Atchafalaya Basin.(Karl Jeter)
Parish Council supports area watershed initiative
The St. Martin Parish Council has endorsed a plan that could have far-reaching benefits for the Atchafalaya Basin and surrounding waters and reduce flooding over a wide swath of south and central Louisiana.
Henderson Mayor/Basin catfish producer Sherbin Collette and councilman/Basin crawfisherman Jody Meche aired details of the plan at the Nov. 5 meeting of the St. Martin Parish Council.
In September, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) solicited local input into the priorities for disbursement of a $4 billion-plus Federal Disaster Mitigation Grant to fund its Watershed Initiative Master Plan for 2021 and beyond.
Collette and Meche received enthusiastic support from the council for suggestions they produced with the help of the Sierra Club’s Harold Schoeffler and others.
The Louisiana CPRA is now the single state entity with authority to develop, articulate, implement, and enforce a comprehensive Coastal Master Plan. Its mission is “to reduce tropical storm surge flood impact, to restore our bountiful natural resources, to build land to protect our nation’s critical energy infrastructure, and to secure Louisiana’s coast now and for future generations.”
The essential element of the plan for flood control, maintenance of fish populations, and allowing natural coastal restoration is enhancing fresh water flow through the Basin and nearby waterways.
This outcome would be accomplished by diverting much more water from the Courtableau control structure into the Teche/Vermilion system. This water would be allowed to work its way south, bringing a sustained flow of clean water into the Vermilion system, Bayou Amy, Henderson Lake and the whole system of waterways in and around the Basin.
“This would help alleviate flooding as far north as Alexandria,” said Meche. The priority list prepared by the Henderson officials would maximize the benefit of that water flow. It includes four projects:
•Levelling of the Dixie Pipeline spoil bank which extends from levee to levee across the width of the Basin. It forms an effective dam that impedes flow and causes the stranding of fish and food-chain organisms in stagnant, oxygen-starved pools.
•Dredging the Grimmett Canal to help restore the sheet flow of water over a wide area of the Basin, reducing stagnant areas.
•Improving or replacing the flood gates in Bayou LaRose, below the pontoon bridge to include gates to allow fish to pass into and out of Henderson Lake regardless of the requirements imposed by high or low water levels.
•Adding a gate structure to allow the return of the natural flow between Bayou Courtableau and the Atchafalaya River that existed before construction of the Atchafalaya Basin levee system.
Addition of automated water-level gauges and water quality monitors is also part of the plan.
These measures would have the three-fold benefit of improving water quality in the system, enhancing fish populations and aiding flood control over a multi-parish area.
Parish President Chester Cedars and council
members unanimously approved a resolution in support of the proposal.