“They can either buy into it or have their opinions — there are no other options. The river is still suffering. We’ve got to save it.” JIM BELLO, Pointe Coupee Parish administrator
NEW ROADS — The murky waters swirling around False River’s proposed revitalization could be getting a little clearer, Pointe Coupee Parish officials say, because a soon-to-be-released state plan will finally offer what looks like a workable plan to address the oxbow lake’s declining water quality.
Officials with the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources DNR are scheduled to present to the public Wednesday what is being called an interim action plan for the lake titled, “The False River Ecosystem Restoration Project,” said Jim Bello, administrator for Pointe Coupee Parish.
The comprehensive proposal will be unveiled to the public during a special meeting at 6 p.m. in the Scott Civic Center, 1200 Major Parkway, in New Roads, Bello said.
Bello, who has already seen an early draft but declined to reveal many details about it, said the DNR plan is the best remedy he has seen within the last 20 years on how to deal with the 22-mile-long lake’s deteriorating conditions.
Nearly every effort thus far to rehabilitate False River has either been stalled or shot down due to lack of funding, public opposition or both.
Problems with the lake began in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when a series of drainage canals were built that caused a dramatic increase in sediment flowing into the oxbow lake formed when the Mississippi River changed course.
Over time, the increased sediment stifled vegetation growth. This caused heavy accumulations of organic matter to smother the bottom of the lake.
The situation made it impossible for fish — such as once-numerous trophy bass — to spawn in large numbers, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Since 2001, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been trying to conduct a comprehensive study on how to reverse False River’s declining conditions, but that project has been plagued by stops and starts since it began because of budget cuts.
About a year ago, the corps released preliminary findings that proposed drawing down the lake’s water level by as much as 6 feet for extended periods of time so that sunlight could reach the lake bed and naturally decompose the built-up muck.
But the corps decided against following through with the drawdown because a study to determine its effects had an estimated cost of $2.6 million, exceeding the department’s $5 million cap on the project.
The drawdown also met with criticism from homeowners who raised concerns that lowering the water level would damage shoreline bulkheads and foundations of their lakefront properties.
Another option officials suggested was dredging the muck buildups from the lake, but that, too, was put aside as being too expensive.
In the meantime, state Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, asked Wildlife and Fisheries, along with the DNR and others involved, to come up with an alternative plan that could be speedily implemented, rather than waiting on the corps to finish its decade-long study, said Stephen Chustz, assistant secretary with the Department of Natural Resources.
Chustz would not reveal details of the new plan on Friday, but did say it is a “multi-faceted” effort.
Chustz said public input would be considered at Wednesday’s meeting since the plan is “adaptable.”
Bello, who said he was “very satisfied” with what the DNR-engineered plan is proposing, did confirm that the drawdown was re-introduced in the draft he reviewed earlier this year.
“They’ve taken a lot of time and effort to put it together,” Bello said. “Some of the plan hinges on getting funding from the state. I’m hoping the state will find a way to fund it up front or over the next two years.”
Thibaut, who has also reviewed an early draft, said there could be about $500,000 in up-front funds available if a current capital outlay bill were to get state House approval, and as much as an additional $2 million through future bills.
“There are about eight to 10 action items in the plan we feel could be implemented from the get-go and take a lot less funds to do,” Thibaut said. “These smaller items are between $25,000 to $50,000 apiece.”
Thibaut added he’s confident homeowners may be more accepting of the plan’s new drawdown proposal since it would lower False River’s water levels by 2 1/2 to 3 feet instead of the 6 feet that has been proposed in the past.
“They can either buy into it or have their opinions — there are no other options,” Bello said. “The river is still suffering. We’ve got to save it.”