False River report released

A new report says the state needs to use innovative river engineering techniques to better manage False River’s drainage canals and calls on the Pointe Coupee Police Jury to address watershed issues that contributed to the oxbow lake’s 20-year decline.

The 65-page report was prepared by the False River Watershed Council.

The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources suggested the study as part of its comprehensive plan for the oxbow lake’s revitalization.

“That document was a fisheries management plan that didn’t really address some of the concerns the rest of the public has,” said Mike Wood, chairman of the 15-member watershed council. “A lot of the people out there don’t fish, so we had to come up with a better way to approach it. Our report is addressing the overall health of False River by expanding our focus from fisheries to all these other different things like erosion and sedimentation.”

Wood, also the director of Inland Fisheries for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, calls the council’s report a “living document” that will serve as a guide to resolving the lake’s problems.

“Some of the recommendations aren’t specific,” he said. “We may not have reached a point where can directly say, ‘do this or that.’ ”

The report says using engineering techniques to manipulate water flow in the Chenal and M-1 canals would cut down on the sediment and nutrients dumped into the lake after heavy rainfalls.

Drainage canals that deliver large amounts of sediment into the lake are major factor in the lake’s decline.

The increased sediment settled to the lake bottom, stifling growth of vegetation and curtailing fish-spawning habitat.

Managing the drainage canals will also assist in flood control, the report says.

Researchers with a water resources engineering firm are already collecting information to find out exactly how much sediment tributaries are pushing into False River.

The sediment research is being paid for with funds from the $500,000 first phase package provided by the state.

“We’re pretty sure the problem is not as bad as it once was (but) those guys are going to give us a better idea of how much sediment can come in,” Wood said.

The council’s report places more responsibility on the Police Jury to enact ordinances designed to improve the lake’s health.

A sediment ordinance, meanwhile, already is being drafted to address factors that disturb soil in the lake’s watershed area.

Another suggested ordinance would change land use for 100-foot easements on both sides of the Bayou Chenal and M-1 canals, which the parish maintains, and allow for buffer zones between farming activities and the drainage channels.

“A majority of the jury understands how important False River is for the parish,” said Police Juror Kyle Olinde, a member of the watershed council.

“It’s going to be a touchy situation because we’re talking about farmlands that are producing crops, but I think the jury will support anything pertaining to the lake. A lot of our tax base comes from the property owners around the lake.”

The council’s report will be presented to the House Committee on Natural Resources before the current session of the Louisiana Legislature ends, state Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, said Thursday.

Thibaut said the report will familiarize lawmakers with the challenges the state faces in restoring False River and the need for additional funding to implement most of the plan’s recommendations.

The Legislature approved $500,000 last year to fund the first phase of the work necessary to revive False River. Lawmakers are expected to vote this session on providing another $2.2 million for the project. “In a perfect world, we’ll have the $2.2 million in Priority 1 at the end of the session,” Thibaut said. “We’re halfway there to what we hope to achieve this year.”

äON THE INTERNET:

To read the 65-page report in its entirety visit: http://www.dnr.louisiana.gov, click the Coastal Management tab, then click on the link for the “False River Ecosystem Restoration Initiative” and look for the report titled “Interim Report to the Legislature — April 2013.”