The engineer overseeing the restoration efforts in the south end of False River says the recent drawdown of the oxbow lake’s water level isn’t directly responsible for the rash of bulkhead failures reported by residents living along the shoreline.
Gerald Babin, vice president of Professional Engineering Consultants Corporation, said faulty construction rather than the lake drawdown appears to be mostly responsible for the failures of the bulkheads, which are also sometimes referred to as seawalls.
Residents earlier this year complained to state and local officials that the lake drawdown by about 3½ feet damaged bulkheads, which are man-made barriers that prevent erosion of waterfront properties and allow property owners more land to erect things like boat launches on the water’s edge.
“From the failures I’ve seen so far, the bulkheads were just underengineered,” Babin said. “They were just ready to fail at any decrease of the water level.”
Babin said that as of late last week, he had visited 17 properties along False River’s 22-mile-long shoreline owned by residents who filed complaints following a meeting in January about the bulkhead failures.
Bulkhead issues he saw firsthand range from minor erosion to a few extensive failures, Babin said. He said nearly 30 property owners had filed formal complaints with his office.
The temporary drawdown ends on Friday, after it was extended an additional 45 days in March by the Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury to aid in the construction of a containment dike designed to help improve the lake’s water quality.
State officials originally gave the Police Jury authority to reduce the lake’s water level from 16.5 feet to approximately 13.5 feet between September and March in order to build a containment dike and deal with siltation issues at the root of the lake’s more than 20-year decline.
Babin said last week that construction of the 16.5-acre dike was complete and contractors this week will start dredging the buildup of thick sediment on the lake’s floor and use it to fill in the man-made barrier.
He estimates that process will take about 90 days.
“In the South Flats, the water level is about 2 to 3 feet in a lot of places and that allows temperatures to get really warm, preventing any aquatic habitat from going on there,” Babin said. “From talking to locals, I know that used to be a hot spot for a lot of fishing.”
The decades of heavy silt buildup at the bottom of the lake has impeded vegetation growth and curtailed fish-spawning habitats for desired catches like trophy bass.
Babin said the containment dike, which looks like a small island, will help deepen the waters on the south end, “allowing the return of more normal water temperatures and cause more aquatic life to return.”
Police Juror Kyle Olinde said the lake’s water level should return to normal fairly quickly.
Olinde said Wednesday that the parish had to reopen False River’s water gates — located near La. 78/False River Road — earlier this week due to the heavy rainfall on Monday and Tuesday.
“We’re already close to getting the water level back to 16 feet,” he said.
As for future drawdowns, which the state has proposed be done annually as the rehabilitation efforts continue, Olinde is hoping Babin’s findings that the recent drawdown wasn’t solely responsible for the shoreline property failures will quell any negativity surrounding their need.
“Especially if it’s going to help the lake,” he added.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.