Water Weekend to raise profile of Vermilion River

Next time you are driving over the bridge on Ambassador Caffery Parkway, look down. You may notice the Vermilion River lazily flowing on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

To raise awareness of pollution in the river and to encourage recreational activity on the waterway that carves through Acadiana, the Bayou Vermilion Preservation Association will host Bayou Vermilion Treasures — A Water Weekend, scheduled Thursday through Sunday.

“People forget we have a river that flows through our city,” said Kelia Bingham, a member of the association’s advisory board. “They aren’t aware our storm drains, ditches and coulees all drain to the Vermilion River.”

Bingham works for the environmental quality division of city-parish government’s Public Works Department.

She said Lafayette has done well controlling so-called point source pollution, basically anything that comes out the end of pipe.

However, nonpoint source pollution, which includes things like litter, car oil, soap, even dirt and grass, is much harder to control and can dirty the river, depleting oxygen levels, Bingham said.

“Who doesn’t like to go fishing or boating?” she asked. “If we keep polluting, that might not be possible. The goal of this weekend is to create awareness of our own behaviors through education and outreach.”

Lafayette’s growing urbanization and a steadily increasing population threaten to increase pollution levels in the river, said Bayou Vermilion District CEO David Cheramie.

The district is the government agency charged with managing river quality in Lafayette.

“We’re pretty much hitting the limits now for what is considered a healthy watershed,” Cheramie said. “We have an estimated 90,000 people moving to Lafayette in the next 20 years or so. That is going to put a mighty stress on the environment.”

Water Weekend will feature a number of speakers from the state Department of Environmental Quality, the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and Lafayette tourism and government officials who will draw attention to the problems pollution creates.

“The seminars will expose the public to the problems of the river and how John Q. Public can make a change,” said Charles Wyatt, president of the nonprofit preservation association. “The Bayou Vermilion District put out booms to collect river debris. Last year, they collected 1,140 55-gallon drums of trash, 750 large units and 175 tires.”

Large units, Wyatt said, are things like car parts, refrigerators, furniture and workout equipment that people dump in the river.

The Bayou Vermilion District has two full-time crews that go out every day to clear trash from the river, Cheramie said, as well as trees that have fallen into the river because of the erosion of its banks.

“Right now, we’re fighting an uphill battle,” he said. “But if we could get people to stop dumping in the river, we could get ahead of the problem instead of playing catch up.”

Bayou Vermilion Preservation Association, which gained nonprofit status April 25, was created to facilitate coordination among communities along the river — including Arnaudville, Lafayette and Abbeville, Wyatt said.

“I think one of the most exciting things that has happened is government departments and organizations are talking at our meetings,” said Jan Wyatt, Charles Wyatt’s wife and a member of the association’s board of directors.

The group also is helping coordinate a testing program that would involve city governments and organizations along the Vermilion to pinpoint where spills and pollution are coming from, Charles Wyatt said.

“The Vermilion River is Lafayette’s backyard,” he said. “If you don’t want litter in your backyard, why throw it in the river?”

The group is sponsoring a number of recreational activities, starting Thursday with a $25 sunset cruise on the Vermilion.

A symposium is scheduled Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Vermilionville and will be catered by La Cuisine de Maman. Tickets are $25.

On Saturday, Vermilionville, the Lafayette Science Museum, the Lafayette Farmers and Artisans Market at the Horse Farm and other groups will host river-related events, including paddle boating, a hike along the river, guided water tours and a tour of restaurants on the bayou.

For information or to purchase tickets for the events, visit bayouvermilionpreservation.org.