Actions taken to control water in area waterways, along with less rain than expected and northerly winds, probably saved Lafayette Parish from catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Barry.
Before Barry crawled across the Gulf of Mexico and lumbered ashore in Louisiana, officials with the Teche-Vermilion Fresh Water District took action to increase the capacity of waterways like Bayou Teche and the Vermilion River to hold the expected 20-plus inches of rainfall expected from the storm.
The district stopped pumping water from Bayou Courtableau into the Teche and Vermilion July 8, a move that helped keep water levels down primarily in St. Landry Parish, but with some advantage to Iberia, St. Martin and Lafayette parishes.
Hundreds of homes in Lafayette Parish and surrounding parishes flooded in August 2016 when the Vermilion River, which drains several parishes, was overwhelmed and backed up. Lafayette residents Harold Schoeffler and Dave Dixon pressed officials to shut off the fresh water flow from Bayou Courtableau before Barry to drop the level of water in the Vermilion River so they could handle a tropical deluge.
That move, along with northerly winds, dropped the water level in the Vermilion River to one of the lowest in recent memory. Residents along the river reported their boats were sitting on the muddy river bottom before Barry blew in.
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U.S. Geological Survey measurements of the Vermilion River at Surrey Street in Lafayette show the river was below 4 feet the morning of July 13. Within 24 hours, it rose above 12 feet as Barry, tides and storm surge moved in. Flood stage at that point is 10 feet.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Dixon said, forecast the Vermilion River to crest at 15 feet. It crested at about 12 feet.
Dixon monitored the river level from his neighbor's house. He said Sunday the river appeared to have crested. The USGS gauge at Surrey Street Monday showed the river below 11 feet.
"By stopping the pumping they did a lot of good," Dixon said. Even so, he added, without the strong northerly winds draining the Vermilion River and other area waterways, "we could have had more problems."
Donald Sagrera, executive director of the Teche-Vermilion Fresh Water District, said Barry sent a significant storm surge into Vermilion Bay and into the Vermilion River which caused the rise at Surrey Street.
The district, he said, did more than just shut off the pumps from Bayou Courtableau. The district opened a structure that allowed Bayou Courtableau to drain into the Atchafalaya Basin floodway, which helped keep water levels down in St. Landry Parish, Sagrera said. It couldn't be opened earlier because water levels in Bayou Courtableau were lower than in the Basin.
A water control structure on Ruth Canal, connecting Bayou Teche to the Vermilion River, was closed, helping the river drain faster, Sagrera said.
In addition, officials opened the Loreauville Canal control structure, sending more water from Bayou Teche into Lake Fausse Point, he said.
Schoeffler and Dixon, along with several local officials, continue pushing the Corps of Engineers to dredge the Vermilion River to further increase its ability to handle catastrophic rainfalls.
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