Fishermen Oppose River Diversions To Fix Louisiana Coast

WEST POINTE A LA HACHE, LA (AP) — Fishermen spoke out Tuesday against plans to rebuild coastal Louisiana by siphoning Mississippi River freshwater and sediment into the Bayou State's disappearing sub-deltas.

         Fishermen voiced fears that new diversions could hurt fishing grounds when they spoke at a coastal restoration meeting at the historic Woodland Plantation on the Mississippi, southeast of New Orleans

         In 2012, the Jindal administration released a 50-year, $50-billion-dollar restoration plan that relies heavily on rebuilding the badly eroded coast — built up over thousands of years by the Mississippi River's overflow waters and mud — by diverting the river's water and sediment into dying sub-deltas.

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         The idea is to mimick Mother Nature — in effect making the Mississippi flow back into estuaries that have long been starved of freshwater and sediment. The river's land-making power has been progressively constrained since the 1800s by higher levees, locks, control structures, dams and river channelization.

         The state has lost about 2,000 square miles of coastal wetlands since the 1930s and continues to lose about 20 square miles each year. It is one of the highest rates of delta loss in the world amid such factors as levee building, oil drilling, logging and shipping.

         To reverse the dramatic land loss, the state-affiliated Baton Rouge-based Water Institute of the Gulf has been evaluating four proposed diversions along the Mississippi River, including one near West Pointe a la Hache in Plaquemines Parish with the intention of helping build marsh in the Barataria basin.

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         A 12-person panel of experts convened Tuesday to re-examine the proposals.

         Anxious fishermen cite the effects freshwater diversions could have on commercial fishing species such as oysters and shrimp that need salty conditions. And fishermen — whose concerns are shared by some scientists — argue that the diversions would be costly and hardly work. Instead they're urging the state to look at other land-building tools, such as constructing more levees and pumping in mud.

         "I do not believe we have seen evidence that you're going to build all this land, protect all these people, with these diversions," said Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, representing commercial shrimpers.

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         Byron Encalade, president of the Louisiana Oystermen's Association, said he "lived" the effects of a freshwater diversion in operation since 1991 at Caernarvon, south of New Orleans.

         "Caernarvon destroyed all my oysters, 1,000 acres," he said. "We can't fish oysters on the east bank of the (Mississippi) river today."

         Bren Haase, chief of planning and research at the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the state agency guiding the state's coastal works program, said planners are considering fishermen's concerns. He noted that the new diversions would be different from past ones meant to capture freshwater to improve fishing habitat. The new diversions would be designed to capture sediment for land-building purposes, he said.

         "Diversions are the cornerstone of our plans," Haase said. "Without diversions the future conditions of southeast Louisiana are pretty dire."

         Still, it's far from certain that any of the diversions will be built. Haase said that it would not be until 2017 at the earliest that work on a new diversion would begin. The state is expected to issue recommendations on what to build by the end of the year.

         John Teal, a member of the advisory panel and a wetlands restoration expert with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said diversions must be considered to help save coastal Louisiana from disappearing.

         "The diversions can slow (the land loss) down," he said. "They can build land."

         But he said authorities also must consider the effects diversions could have on people in areas where the river water would be flushed into. He asked, "What's going to happen to their kids, their grandkids?"

         – by AP Reporter Cain Burdeau




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