Two fishermen with decades of experience between them expressed different expectations to a coastal advisory board Tuesday of what proposed sediment diversions off the Mississippi River could mean for their future.
Capt. George Ricks, with Save Louisiana Coalition, told the Expert Panel on Diversion, Planning and Implementation on Tuesday that allowing the diversions to run full tilt all spring would destroy fishing in the Barataria and Breton basins.
“Maybe, just maybe, the Mississippi River isn’t the silver bullet, the solution. Maybe it’s the problem,” Ricks said.
Capt. Ryan Lambert, of Cajun Fishing Adventures, said existing diversions off the river offer some of the best fishing in Louisiana and are proven to build land even when the water flow is small.
“It’s very hard for me to sit back and listen to someone say the Mississippi River is poison,” Lambert said. “I work in the diversions every day.”
The comments came at the sixth meeting of the diversion panel set up through The Water Institute of the Gulf at the request of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
The panel has experts on Louisiana coastal issues from around the country who offer insights and technical recommendations as the state moves forward in designing large diversions, which would allow the flow of sediment from the Mississippi River into the marsh to build land.
The state board last week approved moving forward to engineer and design two of the proposed diversions at mid-Barataria near Myrtle Grove and the mid-Breton at Wills Point.
The daylong diversion conference in Baton Rouge on Tuesday had numerous technical presentations about computer modeling on the possible impacts on land, vegetation and fisheries. The next modeling step is to study the two approved diversions to get a better idea of what they could mean for the coast and coastal communities.
An ongoing study focuses on the diversions’ economic impact to fisheries, potential savings from storm surge protection, navigation and other factors. Preliminary results presented Tuesday indicate the diversions won’t cause any economic disasters, including to the fishing industry.
A final report about the social and economic impacts and benefits of diversions is expected to be completed in December.
Ricks added that there are concerns the estuaries on either side of the river could become completely fresh and destroy the nursery for the fisheries that communities depend on. He also questioned the ability of the diversions to build land and spoke of concerns about the quality of water coming down the Mississippi River. He also said the Caenarvon freshwater diversion contributed to marsh loss during Hurricane Katrina.
“Saying a sediment diversion is different than a freshwater diversion is like saying a rattle snake is different from a cobra. They’re both snakes. They both can do harm,” Ricks said.
He added that there is concern the diversions will be open whenever there is high water in the river, which could mean five months from February through July.
Board staff said last week that was a worst case scenario and it was not expected the diversions would be run for that long continuously.
Lambert said natural diversions like Mardi Gras Pass lower in the river provide great fishing. In another area near Buras, he said, enough land and vegetation has grown as the result of diversions that: “I’m having to give up duck leases because I can’t even get to it anymore. It doesn’t make sense to say it doesn’t grow.”
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.