LAFAYETTE — Workers with the Bayou Vermilion District pull out hundreds of barrels of plastic bottles, grocery bags, Styrofoam cups and other trash from the waterway each year.
That’s not to mention piles of old refrigerators, tires and a long list of other junk tossed into the bayou.
“Without those guys, we would be walking across trash to get from one side of the bayou to the other,” said Bayou Vermilion District CEO Director David Cheramie.
He spoke Friday at the Visionary Water Symposium, a day of presentations on the health of the Vermilion and what can be done to improve it.
One solution: step up efforts to fight the litter being washed into the bayou every time it rains.
“The public does not realize that everything that goes into a storm drain goes into a coulee and then into the river. Once it gets in there, it has to be picked up,” said Charles Wyatt, president of the Bayou Vermilion Preservation Association.
The association, which organized the Friday event, is a new nonprofit group dedicated to raising awareness about the bayou, which Wyatt said is a “hidden treasure” not given its due.
“It’s a real shame that they don’t respect what they have,” he said.
Even residents who spend time on the Vermilion might not be aware of the full extent of the trash problem, because mounds of the stuff are captured before they even hit the bayou by floating booms stretched across major coulees that drain into the waterway.
“If they didn’t put the booms out, it would be a mess,” Wyatt said.
The Bayou Vermilion District — the public agency overseeing the bayou — keeps those booms cleaned out, a labor-intensive job done largely by hand.
“We are pulling the trash out piece by piece,” Cheramie said.
Last year, workers with the district filled 1,140 55-gallon barrels with trash and fished out 175 tires and 750 appliances and other bulky items, according to figures from BVD.
A less obvious problem is the dirt, leaves and grass that flow into the river, washed off the city’s streets, lawns and construction sites, said Bess Foret, who handles stormwater and runoff issues for Lafayette city-parish government.
Dirt worsens the cloudiness of the bayou, making it inhospitable for marine life, and leaves and grass can suck up oxygen from the water when they start to decay.
Leaves and grass clippings should be bagged for proper disposal, she said, and contractors should ensure fabric barriers or something similar is used to keep loose dirt from washing off construction sites.
“The silt and sediment that is running off construction sites is a huge contributor,” Foret said. “We want that sediment to stay on-site.”
Despite the bayou’s challenges, it has come a long way from a few decades ago, Cheramie said.
Industrial waste has been reined in and what remains is known as nonpoint source pollution — runoff and stormwater rather than pollution flowing from a pipe at a factory.
“We’ve gotten a lot better,” Cheramie said.
He said the bayou, especially a clean one, is a big asset for the city and the long-term plan is to nurture more recreation on the waterway, the kind of activities young professionals are searching for these days.
“Once we get it clean, we want people in there,” Cheramie said. “Instead of taking their weekend off to go kayaking wherever, they can do that right here in Lafayette.”
Friday’s symposium is part of a larger “Water Weekend” that continues with bayou-focused activities on Saturday at Vermilionville, the Lafayette Science Museum, the Lafayette Farmers and Artisans Market at the Horse Farm and other groups.