False River on road to recovery, lawmaker says

Past efforts to revitalize False River in Pointe Coupee Parish never gained any traction because “nothing was coordinated” by federal, state and parish entities, state Rep Major Thibaut said Monday.

But the 22-mile-long oxbow lake is now on the road to recovery thanks to the state’s Department of Natural Resources’ False River Ecosystem Restoration Plan and more than $2.5 million in capital outlay funding from the state Legislature, the New Roads Democrat told the Baton Rouge Press Club.

DNR’s plan was unveiled to the public in June and includes multi-tiered strategies for the lake that incorporate ideas and initiatives from various agencies such as the state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Thibaut said.

“People are getting excited in the community because we have a plan,” Thibaut said. “This is about taking care of a problem that has been overlooked in the past.”

Thibaut was referring to the problem of silt that has drained into the lake from its adjoining tributaries for more than 30 years. He said the build up of silt has stunted the growth of vegetation and has impeded the lake’s wildlife reproduction.

Before its decline, False River had been designated a trophy lake for bass fishing.

Thibaut told the Press Club the spawning of the lake’s trophy bass population has been stifled by the thick slit that has settled on the lake bed and is constantly stirred up by the overabundance of bottom-feeding fish.

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries recently lifted the ban on commercial gill-netting in False River to help reduce the volume of bottom-feeders populating the lake, pursuant to the DNR plan for restoring False River.

Since the commercial fishing season began on Nov. 1, Thibaut said, fisherman have been hauling in about 6,000 pounds of fish per run.

“It’s going to take about five years to get the undesirable species under control,” he added.

Thibaut said the State Bond Commission’s recent approval of the sale of $500,000 in general obligation bonds is being used to implement a Watershed Drainage Network Assessment. The project will help researchers determine the current degree of lake sedimentation and turbidity, he said.

Approximately 28,000 tons of silt is deposited in the lake annually, Thibaut said.

“This is basically a tool we’re using to measure how much silt is coming into the river presently,” Thibaut said, referring to drainage assessment. “This will tell us if we need to address the (silt) problems that have already occurred or do we need to address the discharges.”

Approximately $2.2 million in additional priority funding from the state Legislature will help fund several more expensive rehabilitative efforts included in the DNR plan, such as dredging the lake and using the sediment to build island/terraces, Thibaut said.

According to the DNR plan, the islands/terraces will improve wildlife habitat, control water temperature and reduce turbidity.

The additional funding will also fund the once controversial lake drawdown which involves lowering False River’s water level by 2 to 3 feet so sunlight can naturally breakup the sediment buildup and improve water quality, he said.

The drawdown will occur in 2014, Thibaut added.

“This is a good start,” Thibaut said. “But I think we’re going to need an ongoing management plan, too. I want to make sure future generations get to experience the same quality lake that has been there in the past.”