False River flood control argued

Several Pointe Coupee Parish residents living along the False River shoreline believe it’s time parish leaders take a proactive approach in managing the oxbow lake’s water levels after this month’s weeklong heavy rainfall pushed floodwater onto their land.

Parish Administrator Jim Bello said Wednesday, however, the parish had opened the three lift gates controlling False River’s water depth on Jan. 6, and the gates have been open ever since.

“They don’t understand this lake and what the watershed around it does when you get more than 10 inches of rain,” Bello said. “This is going to happen. I’ve been living on this lake since 1973 and this is going to occur again and again.”

Frank Salario said the lake flooded the yards of all three of the waterfront homes he owns in Ventress. Luckily, the high water never got inside his homes, he added.

Salario said he thinks the encroachment of lake water onto his property could have been prevented if the Police Jury had had the foresight to open the lift gates that control lake levels before the stormy weather arrived.

“We need to get to a point where we can keep everyone’s property from getting flooded,” Salario said Tuesday afternoon. “Most of the people that have houses sitting along the river have piers and their piers are all underwater right now.”

Mary Vought, who also lives along the shoreline in Ventress, said the rising lake waters flooded her entire back yard. But Vought’s home was spared as well.

“I just did some new landscaping out there a couple days ago,” she said. “I’m looking at my landscaping and wondering who’s going to repay me for that work? I know we got an unusual amount of rain lately but they need to start maintaining the water levels like they did in the past.”

Between Jan. 8 and Jan. 15, the Pointe Coupee Parish area was drenched by 16.9 inches of rain, said Phil Grigsby, a metrologist with the National Weather Service.

Grigsby said 12.3 inches of the 16.9 inches of rain the parish received were recorded between Jan. 8 and Jan. 10.

“That’s impressive,” he said.

Denny Vicknair, who lives along False River in Oscar, said the lake waters rose nearly a foot over the bulkhead protecting his property.

Vicknair said he believes the “common sense” approach to keeping the lake from overtopping its banks would involve implementing an annual drawdown of the lake’s water level during wintertime, when there is minimal fishing and recreational activity.

Property owners strongly opposed the concept of lowering False River’s water level after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suggested dropping the lake level about 6 feet temporarily to help improve the lake’s water quality.

False River’s ecosystem has been declining for more than 30 years due to excessive siltation. The crescent-shaped oxbow lake, formed in the early 1700s when the Mississippi River changed course, has a 22-mile shoreline, but its actual length is about 10.5 miles, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Public opposition to lowering the lake’s water level eased somewhat in June when the Department of Natural Resources offered a restoration plan calling for dropping the lake level no more than 2 or 3 feet during 2014 as a means of reducing lakebed muck buildup.

“If they don’t want to lower the lake for that reason,” Vicknair said, “they need to at least bring it down annually in October or early November because every year we go through this with all this rain in the winter.”

Salario, who said he supports the idea of an annual drawdown, added, “They can’t decide to open the flood gates right before it rains. Weather is getting to a point where they can forecast it nearly a week in advance. I was able to look on my iPad and see we were about to get a lot of rainfall. Maybe we need to buy them an iPad so they can see it, too.”

Parish Administrator Bello said the parish keeps the lake’s water level right around the 16-foot mark on a gauge. He said that because of the heavy rainfall of the past several days, the lake’s depth at the gauge reached about 19 feet as of Wednesday.

When the lift gates are open, Bello said, the parish is able to reduce the lake’s water level by only two-tenths of a foot per day.

“It takes about five days to drop it a foot,” he said. “This rain event wasn’t anticipated and came up quickly. There was nothing more the Police Jury could have done.”

Bello said Police Jury members have discussed in the past the possibility of annual wintertime drawdowns, and the talks could continue.

“We probably need to re-evaluate if this weather pattern is going to be something we have to deal with every year,” Bello said. “We have been fortunate. We went through a long period of a drought.”