Mike Hoss / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS – The opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway is a flood-protection project, though some argue it also could serve to bolster wetlands restoration in the area.
However, that opportunity has been missed again and no one knows the next time the spillway will be opened.
Fresh Mississippi River water is rich in nutrients and sediment, which now is pouring into the spillway and eventually into Lake Pontchartrain.
That means it’s not helping dying wetlands on both sides of the spillway, wetlands that will help protect the area from hurricanes.
“It’s an old idea and it’s very frustrating that we’re not seeing more capacity to take advantage of the sediment in the river,” said John Lopez, interim executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Foundation.
Lopez said the old is to create openings on each side of the guide levees along the spillway and let that nutrient-rich fresh water and sediment flow into and replenish the marshes and wetlands.
He believes it’s a no-brainer.
But that’s the same thing Carlton Dufrechou, then with the Lake Pontchartrain Foundation, told Eyewitness News’ Mike Hoss in 2008, a couple of months after the spillway last opened.
Lake officials, the state and the Army Corps of Engineers all seem to be on board with the idea of the project, yet it doesn’t appear to be much closer to execution.
“For the most part, this is a huge missed opportunity,” Lopez said.
One of the questions now is where to put an opening or a diversion to best capture the sediment and force it into the wetlands.
The Corps has placed 12-by-12 concrete plates all throughout the spillway. When the water recedes, they’ll measure the sediment left behind to guide them where to put an opening.
“The engineers are working on what type of thing we can do to still safely pass the floodwater like we’re doing today, but also maybe allow the water the water and sediment to pass through either a gated structure or a siphon or pumps,” said the Bonnet Carre Spillway’s Chris Brantley.
But the biggest drawback will likely be money, as Lopez said gates of some nature would cost in nearly $25 million.
Expensive? Yes. But Lopez said not so much when you’re talking about a river-diversion project.
Frustrating to some when the answer to the problem is only feet away.