Debate rages on over river diversion project

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wwltv.com

Posted on July 17, 2013 at 10:40 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 18 at 2:29 PM

Don Dubuc / Eyewitness News

VIOLET, La. -- Just when everyone thought the long-awaited state 2012 coastal master plan was good to go, controversy over one of the main aspects of the project has threatened further delay.

The debate over whether diverting massive amounts of freshwater sediment from the river into the marshes is a bonanza or a bust for fish, seafood and those who depend on them for their livelihoods.

A freshwater diversion structure at Caernorvan is child's play compared to the series of massive freshwater sediment diversions that are planned under the state's Coastal master plan.

And it has fishermen and scientists on both sides, some wanting as much water as they can get to help build the wetlands, and others saying it’s a fishery and resource Armageddon.

“I don't want it,” said Robbie Campo. “Nobody wants it!”

Opponents of the freshwater sediment diversion say it’s going to displace redfish and speckled trout.

“I've been guiding for 33 years in this area, and again -- 19 diversions, some of them pretty big, and that's only going to Baptiste Collette -- yesterday I caught 185,” said Ryan Lambert of Cajun Fishing Adventures. “The three of us, three boats and we were right outside of probably 300, minimum of 300 cubic feet per second coming out of there. We're right on the outside of it and we catch 185 trout.”

The reality of wetlands loss continues to hit home, as earlier this year the names of 31 coastal points on the west side of Plaquemines Parish that fishermen and hunters have known for years have been removed from NOAA maps and reduced to "historical status only."

Lambert has spent decades watching those places wash away and believes accelerated freshwater diversion will restore the loss.

“Between my lodge and Venice, so Ostrica locks to Baptiste Collette, there are 19 diversions," Lambert said. "Probably got 400,000 (cubic feet per second) coming through this area, and it doesn't hurt our saltwater fishing. Our ground is hard as a rock. It doesn't roll up because it has sediment. But the most important thing is what you see right here, all this vegetation, that's what keeps Louisiana alive."

“I know you've seen some of the benefits that freshwater's done down at the mouth of the river, but I want you to see what the nitrates and the chemicals from the river water's done to this brackish water marsh,” said Capt. George Ricks, president of the Save Louisiana Coalition. “Now all of this was connected as much as two years ago as Isaac came in, and you can see what it’s done this is all open water.”

“I must state that I've championed diversions for a long time. I published on diversions and I still believe that diversions are one of the best tools in our tool kit for reversing the long term land loss problem,” said Dr. Sherwood Gagliano of Coastal Environments Inc. “Having said that, however, diversions work in some areas and they're counter-productive in other areas.”

“From what I've seen, the scientific studies that I've pulled up, it seems like wherever the river has the most influence on a high salinity marsh, that's where most of the erosion rates are,” Ricks said.

“We should manage that as an estuarine area, and by that I mean we need to throttle back the processes that are causing to erode and deteriorate,” Gagliano said. “There's too much energy in the tides. What we need to do is get that in a more managed condition, if we do that it does not preclude using diversions, smaller diversions selectively to optimize the water salinities and other conditions.”

“It’s all a matter of letting Mother Nature do her thing,” Lambert said. “She knows what to do. We don't have to study it. You know we messed up when we made the levees. Before I die I will see some of it.”

“It all depends on what you want,” Ricks said. “You want saltwater fishery, saltwater fish need saltwater. It’s as simple as that.”

“My appreciation of what is now unfolding is its generated some constructive conversation, and I think we're going to arrive at some scenarios that all of us like better,” Gagliano said.

A recent letter from NOAA to Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority mandates they address all public concerns whether they have merit or not, before proceeding with the first the state work through all citizen concerns before they issue any Diversion Project permits.

Following a series of public hearings with all sides involved, hopefully they'll reach a compromise on freshwater diversion, because after all, everyone is looking for the same thing -- healthy wetlands restores and renewable resources.

 

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