“Diversions aren’t the answer.”

May 3rd, 2013 | By | Category: Top Story

“The guy who designed this plan, if it doesn’t work, his life will go on… we will suffer
forever,” said Clint Guidry, President of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association. Guidry,
along with Mike Lane of RodnReel.com, Charter Boat Captain George Ricks, and
Dr. Pat Fitzpatrick of Mississippi State University, is leading the charge on the Save
Louisiana Coalition an organization against large-scale diversions. Photo by Helmut Ermlich

Hundreds of concerned fishermen attended the second meeting of the Save Louisiana Coalition Monday night to get informed on what coalition leaders say is the biggest issue facing fisheries today: large-scale freshwater and sediment diversions.

The Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, approved last year, has several large-scale diversions slated for St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes. One planned for the
St. Bernard/Plaquemines border in Braithwaite will flow 250,000 cubic feet of
freshwater and sediment per second into the area’s marshes. That planned project
is the same capacity of the Bonnet Carré spillway.

“We’re not fully against the master plan, we’re totally opposed to any new diversions,” said Mike Lane, one of the organizers of the Save Louisiana Coalition.

“I had a long conversation with Garrett Graves [Chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority] and he told us that the plan might displace
people, displace communities, but they’re going to do it anyway.”

Proponents say the diversions are designed to allow freshwater and sediment to flow into the marshes to re-nourish them. The marshes have been cut off from nourishing river sediment over the last 100 years by levees and other manmade structures. They also say that these diversions are the most cost-effective and sustainable way to combat erosion and subsidence.

However, opponents of diversions—largely commercial and recreational fishermen, marina owners, shrimpers and oystermen, say that these diversions are a risky experiment that could wipe out their livelihood.

“They’re basing this on theoretical science that relies on computer modeling,” said Clint Guidry, President of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association. “The guy who designed this plan, if it doesn’t work, his life will go on… we will suffer forever.”

Their alternative is marsh creation by way of year-round sediment-dredging from the floor of the Mississippi River. They say that dredging creates land in years, where diversions are estimated to take decades– around 20 – 40 years– to see results.

“Base the goals on land built, not hypotheticals,” said Dr. Pat Fitzpatrick, an associate research professor at Mississippi State University. Fitzpatrick says that the State Master Plan’s emphasis on large-scale diversions is flawed, one reason being that river water is not as sediment-rich and healthy as it was 100 years ago.

Currently, the state operates three freshwater diversions– one at Davis Pond near Lafitte, one near Bayou Lamoque in Plaquemines Parish and the other in Caernarvon near the St. Bernard/Plaquemines border. Fitzpatrick said that some of the worst erosion of the last decade has been in the area impacted by the Caernarvon Diversion, which includes the marshes near Delacroix Island. Fitzpatrick says that area’s erosion has a direct correlation to harmful chemicals in the river water.

“The Mississippi River has fertilizers and pollutants in it, and organic-based soil, which is what Delacroix has, is very sensitive to fertilizers,” he explained.

He said that when plants have easy access to fertilizers, they do not grow deep roots. And when strong storm surges move through, they easily rip the plants from the soil base.

Coalition leaders and fishermen who have navigated area waters for generations say that the Bayou Lamoque diversion in Plaquemines–an 8,000 cfs (cubic feet of water per second) diversion– is directly responsible for low oyster counts in the area. The diversion is still open today.

Jody Donewar, an area boat captain and charter guide, says that since the oil spill in 2010, the Bayou Lamoque diversion has been opened at full capacity to combat post-oil spill erosion.

“In three years, it’s killed every oyster,” said Donewar. “During the spill, I took Diane Sawyer’s news crew out there to effected sites, and I can tell you for a fact that no oil was even in this area.”

Donewar continued, “You pull them [oysters] out of the water and there’s no sign of life on the shell; it looks like the whole batch has been rinsed off with a garden hose. It’s like trying to catch speckled trout in a desert out there.”

The St. Bernard Parish Council unanimously passed a resolution at their April 16 meeting opposing the construction of any more freshwater and sediment diversions until scientific evidence proves that they will not adversely affect the commercial and
recreational fishing industries in St. Bernard Parish.

Parish President Dave Peralta and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser
have spoken out against the large-scale diversions. Peralta was in attendance at Monday’s meeting and said he was encouraged to see so many—commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, charter guides, marina owners, land owners—
all gathered together for one cause.

“We all represent different groups, but this is the first time I’ve seen everyone together,” said Parish President Dave Peralta. “Politicians listen to numbers. This is what will make us win.”

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