LOCKPORT, La.-- With a passing glance, the area along Highway 308 looks solid enough to stand on-- but it's not. This is Bayou Lafourche and it's getting choked by a host of invasive plants.
"These plants are a real nuisance," said Kerry St. Pe of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program.
Bayou Lafourche stretches 100-miles, from the Mississippi River, down to the Gulf of Mexico. It is the source of fresh water for more than 300,000 people in the bayou communities. However, invasive plants-- like water hyacinths and hydrillas-- are threatening that water source.
"Salt water can intrude at the bottom of Bayou Lafourche and cause problems with drinking water," St. Pe said.
That is the main concern for Hugh Caffery, chairman of the Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District.
"It becomes almost a sponge you can't get through," Caffery said. "It's been bad, but over time, it's just getting worse."
What is making things worse this year is a combination of two things: a lack of spraying the invasive plants and a mild winter. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is charged with spraying the plants over a wide area, stretching from Barataria Bay to Vermilion Parish, south of I-10. The program costs $1.5 million a year, but it has now ended.
"With budget cutbacks, we've had to decide what we can fund, what we can't," said Donald Schneider, the Army Corps of Engineers' operation manager for Southeast Waterways. "Unfortunately, this program can not be funded for this particular year."
The lack of funding means the plants are left to grow wild, causing concerns not just for the water supply, but also navigation.
"There are shipyards located up and down the bayou, especially in lower area," Caffery said.
In the long term, dredging the bayou could help, but it is costly. In the short term, the water district is working to cut the plants.
"We have a boat with large propellers and it just cuts a path through the whole mat and it allows water to flow," Caffery said. "That's all we can do: kind of cutting the grass."
It is a temporary solution, though, and one that doesn't get to the root of a growing problem. The water district applied for a $20 million federal grant, which it hopes can help pay for dealing with the invasive plants. They will learn if they will receive it this summer.