Doug Mouton / Eyewitness News Northshore Bureau Chief
NEW ORLEANS - Large plumes of muddy water from the Mississippi River are now visible in Lake Pontchartrain.
The cloudy water, which Eyewitness News Outdoorsman Frank Davis calls "chocolate milk," is sprinting the roughly five miles from the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway and into the southwestern end of the Lake.
"It was obvious how deep the change was when we got out to about the seven mile marker of the Causeway," Colonel John Fortunato of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department said after a flyover above the Spillway and the Lake, "to see that that chocolate, soupy-colored water that was coming out of the river mixed with the salt water of Lake Pontchartrain, it became very noticeable."
So far, favorable winds blowing from the northwest have kept the chocolate milk in the southern end of the Lake.
"It's definitely been hugging the Southshore," Anne Rheams of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation said Monday. "The plume is getting bigger and bigger as they open the different bays of the Spillway, and yes, Frank is right– chocolate milk is a good description of what we're seeing."
Those winds are expected to shift around to the south, and push the chocolate milk-colored water into a significantly larger portion of the lake, which could put fisheries in danger.
"We know this has to happen,” Rheams said. “There's more important things than fish and that's the property and lives."
According to Rheams, it could take roughly six to eight months for all of the muddy water to filter out of the lake.
The variable, Rheams said, is that this is the first spillway opening since the closing of the MRGO, so exactly how long it will take to filter out the chocolate milk is unknown, but according to Rheams, the lake will be fine long term.
"The lake has handled this multiple times," Rheams said. "The lake is going to handle it again. It's an open system – the water is going to come into the lake and the water is going to go out of the lake."
That Mississippi River water does contain a great deal of debris, but Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries report no accidents or injuries so far, related to that debris.