Feds provide downpayment For tri-parish water quality

Deidre Cruse

The tri-parish Atchafalaya East Watershed program has netted Iberville and two neighboring parishes a $900,000-plus federal grant to begin waterway improvements, Iberville Permits and Environmental Manager John Clark announced last week.

The three-year grant for Iberville, Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge parishes was included by the Bush Administration and Congress in the Water Resources Act, which Clark said was the largest energy and water bill ever to be passed.

This is a tangible result of a $90,000 regional project the three parishes funded some two years ago, with each parish putting up $30,0000, Clark said. Another is a detailed study of the problems of the waterways in the three parishes that has just been completed.

 What is hoped to be an initial federal grant will fund water quality sampling throughout the three parishes to identify “pollution hotspots” that need to be addressed.

“Once we see a potential pollution problem, we will look upstream to see what types of land use is occurring that may be contributing to this source of pollution,” Clark said. “Then we will work through local, state and federal programs that already exist to help assist landowners, farmers, private businesses and local government to address these problems. These programs usually provide technical and financial assistance in the form of cost sharing.

Another problem that will be tackled with the grant will be funding the litter and trash in all three parishes’ waterways.

“We have already been working to address that in one fashion or another,” the manager said. “This will help unite our efforts in the three parishes, and explore innovative strategies to address waterborne debris.”

Plaquemine is having “giant socks” designed to catch litter at the culverts that drain into Bayou Plaquemine to keep it from entering the scenic bayou, while Lafayette Parish is using floating oil spill booms, Clark cited as examples.

“We don’t want to stay with the conventional approach,” he said. “We’re going to have to think out of the box.”

On the other hand, the federal grant requires a 40 percent in-kind match from the three parish governments that will be covered by efforts the local governments already are making.

“We’re already cleaning up bayous and doing a lot of things that [the state Department of Environmental Quality wants us to do,” Clark said, “but now we’re getting credit for it.”

The grant also allows for continued the involvement of “stakeholders” – all the residents, businesses and other enterprises involved in the watershed, the manager said. A website to keep stakeholders updated on the program is a possibility.

“One of our biggest assets is that our stakeholders have all been united in one voice,” Clark said.

Clark and Iberville Parish Chief Administrative Officer Edward A. “Lucky” Songy Jr. met Monday night with U.S. Sen. David Vitter to call his attention to the just-published report on the issues.

Clark said he flagged areas of the report that could use additional funding, and provided Vitter with maps and other materials. Officials in West Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee had pitched the project, as well, he said in their meetings with the touring senator.

In the new report, Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso Jr. identifies Iberville’s issues as: Excessive siltation in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) near the intersection of La. 75 and La. 74.

Excessive siltation at the mouth of Bayou Plaquemine impairing navigation for local businesses, industry, residents and the Plaquemine Ski Club.

“The siltation has crated a situation at the mouth of Bayou Plaquemine that is becoming a public safety hazard,” Ourso said.

Excessive stream bank erosion along Bayou Plaquemine and the GIWW.

Excessive siltation within the “Holiday Park Bend,” Cypress Cove Bend” and “Goat Island Bend” areas (natural waterway meanders cut by the GIWW) prevents navigation and recreational use.

The Bayou Sorrel and Bayou Pigeon communities flooding more frequently even after an average rainfall.

The Bayou Sorrel and Bayou Pigeon Community bridges are floating barges, and as a result have been known to hold back floodwaters, which could lead to even greater flooding upstream.

Poor overall water quality and declined fisheries within most of the waterbodies, excluding those in the Atchafalaya Basin, is due to a lack of freshwater flow through the tri-parish watershed area.

The organizers of the watershed project are looking at the work as a long-term commitment, since providing regional solutions for any single problem is likely to be expensive.

“One project sets the stage for the next best thing,” Clark said.