Army Corps okays plan to improve False River water quality

Lower water level will decrease cost of dike

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has signed off on a plan to restore water quality in False River by creating a containment dike — a plan that involves lowering the oxbow lake’s water level next fall.

The False River Restoration Project, which is being financed by $1.5 million in state funding, now heads to the Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury for local approval.

The project involves creating a 16.5-acre containment dike in the southern portion of the lake. To lessen costs associated with the construction of the containment island, the lake’s water level will be lowered.

“We shouldn’t have any issues with getting the Police Jury to approve this because everyone is on board with what we’re trying do,” Juror Kyle Olinde said Wednesday.

Olinde serves on the False River Watershed Council — a 15-member board composed of state and local government officials and Pointe Coupee community leaders charged with overseeing False River’s recovery efforts.

“The Police Jury is aware that False River is a gold mine for the parish, so I have no doubt we’ll get this approved at our next meeting in June,” Olinde said.

Officials hope to kick off construction in the South Flats portion of the lake by September, pending jury approval in June. The project will take approximately seven months to finish.

For the past two years, state and local officials have taken a more aggressive approach toward addressing the lake’s 20-year decline. Their efforts have been guided by an ambitious restoration plan the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources unveiled to the public in May 2012.

False River’s decline is mostly attributed to heavy silt buildup over the past two decades. It has affected the lake’s water quality, stifled vegetation growth and curtailed fish-spawning habitats.

The first phase of the project involves dredging the sediment build-up on the lake’s floor and using it to build the containment dike that will act as a dam to block further sediment build-up in the rest of the waterway.

“As a containment wall it’ll essentially be a fence that we’re going to use to store sediment in,” said Mike Wood, director of Inland Fisheries for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “Sediment has been accumulating on both ends of the lake making it far shallower than it should be. This was one of several options we came up with to do something with the sediment that was already there.”

“There will be no development on this island, but there will be natural vegetation surrounding it,” he said.

Construction of the dike also calls for a drawdown of the lake’s water level — something that was previously panned by property owners along the lake’s shoreline.

Wood said the drawdown will reduce the cost of dredging False River and will create more opportunities to improve the lake bed’s vegetation.

The Watershed Council is recommending the Police Jury approve a drawdown schedule that will lower the water level about an inch-and-a-half each day, over a period of 15 to 20 days in the fall, until it falls to a target level of 13.5 feet on the lighthouse gate.

The council’s recommendation to the parish also stipulates that False River’s water gates be closed no later than March 1, 2015, to allow the lake to return to its normal levels.

Local home and camp owners will be asked by officials to clean their shorelines and do proper pier maintenance during the drawdown.

In the meantime, State Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, said he is trying to push the state Legislature to approve another $1.2 million in earmarked funds for the project.

“I’m 99 percent sure that when we bang the gavel next Monday to close the session that we’ll be in good shape,” Thibaut said Wednesday. “The people here at the Capitol realize the importance of False River and its importance to the region and the state.”