Xerxes Wilson / The Houma Courer

HOUMA, La. One of Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet's goals before leaving office after the end of next year is changing the route wastewater takes once it disappears down the drain.

He wants to send the water into the wetlands.

'It is a gigantic priority for me,' Claudet said.

The Terrebonne Parish Council took a step toward that goal March 12 by giving preliminary approval to the Wetland Assimilation Project at the South Terrebonne Wastewater Treatment Plant that includes a $2 million bond sale. There will be public hearing and final passage at the next council meeting on March 26.

The project will reroute millions of gallons of wastewater into the wetlands north of Lake Boudreaux instead of discharging in the Houma Navigation Canal where nutrients in the wastewater are uselessly flushed toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Claudet said Morganza-to-the-Gulf levees at the southern edge of Lake Boudreaux will stop salt water intruding into the lake. And this project will help flush salt water out to protect remaining vegetation around the lake, he said.

Some 4 million gallons of wastewater could be pumped through on a typical day, Terrebonne Parish Manager Al Levron said.

The intent is that some of the nitrogen, ammonia and phosphates in the treated wastewater will also feed plants that bolster eroding land, he said.

'(After treatment) all you are left with is clean water with a lot of nutrients in it,' said Kerry St. Pe, Barataria Terrebonne National Estuary Program director. 'It is very expensive to remove that nitrogen through a traditional treatment plant. The idea of passing it through wetlands is a very good idea because you are removing the nutrients. The plants are removing it and benefiting from it. It is fertilizer, and the water quality benefits.'

Parish officials visited a similar project in St. Charles Parish and noted the success in bolstering the area's greenery. Thibodaux Mayor Tommy Eschete said his city has been doing something similar with wastewater treated at its Talbot Avenue plant that is directed to the west part of town.

'It works,' Eschete said. 'It's taken a dead area and made it green.'

The Terrebonne plan calls for a 24-inch distribution pipe to be horizontally drilled to discharge into a 450-acre area of wetlands just south of the treatment plant.

The project is waiting on final permits. Levron said he believes the bonds will be paid back through the state Department of Environmental Quality, which regulates wastewater statewide.

Once complete, treated sewage will be pumped about 2,000 feet south from the facility behind Ashland Jail and discharged at several points into the wetlands.

Pe noted running the discharge through the wetlands will benefit the plants as the nutrients are removed and benefit the lake by introducing more fresh water into the area.

The land around Lake Boudreaux has seen significant degradation through the years. Plans submitted to state authorities project the area will lose some 163 acres of wetlands in the next 50 years. The area is the location of restoration projects such as the state's plan to introduce some 20 million gallons of fresh water daily into the lake from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

This new project is smaller but will help bolster the land and be less expensive to operate than the current procedure, Levron said.

The Terrebonne South Treatment Facility handles wastewater originating from the city's east side, said Mike Orgdone, administrator of the parish's Pollution Control Division.

It's one of two major facilities and several smaller plants that treat local sewerage.

Orgdone said it's a complicated process than requires several steps of separation of solid material, aeration and chlorine purification.

'We think we can stimulate some growth in the vegetation and get more freshwater out there,' Orgdone said.

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