Work crews with the Bayou Vermilion District are steering their boats up Bayou Carencro in an effort to expand the reach of the public agency.

District crews have worked along Bayou Vermilion for years, clearing away downed trees, fighting erosion along the bayou’s banks and maintaining floating booms to capture litter in the waterway that flows through the heart of Lafayette.

The public agency was created in 1984 to improve Bayou Vermilion within the boundaries of Lafayette Parish, but the Legislature approved a bill in the past session to broaden the agency’s scope, opening the door for what district CEO David Cheramie envisions as a new regional strategy to manage the bayou and the smaller waterways flowing in and out of it.

“We are trying to take a holistic approach,” Cheramie said.

The first step is small one.

Legislation sponsored by state Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, and state Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas, authorizes the Bayou Vermilion District to do cleanup work on Bayou Carencro, which runs along the border of Lafayette and St. Landry parishes and combines with Bayou Fuselier to create Bayou Vermilion.

Cheramie said the first discussions of the district reaching out to other waterways began in 2012, the year record rainfall pushed water into hundreds of homes in the Carencro area. He said clearing trees and other debris from Bayou Carencro should improve water flow and address some of the flooding issues.

Cheramie also hopes that keeping more local waterways clear of debris will make the area more hospitable for canoeing and kayaking, a long-term goal of Bayou Vermilion District.

The initial draft of the legislation proposed in this year’s session would have allowed the district to work not only in Lafayette Parish but also in neighboring parishes with links to Bayou Vermilion — St. Martin, St. Landry and Vermilion.

Ortego said reaching into St. Landry Parish is particularly critical because litter and other debris flowing into bayous and coulees there eventually floats into Bayou Vermilion farther south.

“If they don’t get the water clean at the beginning, it’s a lot harder to get it clean downriver,” he said. “That water doesn’t know the difference between one parish and another.”

The proposal to allow the district to work in parishes outside of Lafayette drew opposition from Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel, who argued the agency should not stray beyond the parish line because only Lafayette Parish residents pay the property tax funding its operations.

Those concerns led to the scaled-down proposal to address only Bayou Carencro, but Ortego and Cheramie said they hope to revisit the issue in future years and might explore expanding the tax base to other areas where the district would do work.

“It’s one step toward regionalizing the river,” Ortego said.