Studies are underway to determine the impacts of dredging the Vermilion River, which some believe is needed to increase its capacity to handle heavy rainfall from tropical systems and storms such as the devastating August 2016 deluge that flooded thousands of homes in Acadiana.
"The Vermilion River is authorized by Congress as a navigable waterway," said Michael Waldon, a retired Lafayette resident who worked 12 years as a hydrologist with the federal government. "It's supposed to be 11 feet deep at low water. Right now, it's a foot deep in places. That's a really severe problem that it can't convey water out of our parish."
For several years, residents such as Waldon have pressed officials to dredge the Vermilion River at Lafayette, something that hasn't been done in more than 60 years. Waldon said he believes the biggest contributing factor to the August 2016 Lafayette flooding was the river's inability to drain water.
"We're three years from the flood and not one shovel of dirt has been turned on any regional project like dredging the Vermilion River," retired Lafayette resident Dave Dixon said Thursday. Dixon and Harold Schoeffler, chairman of the Acadiana Group of the Sierra Club, have lobbied for dredging the river.
Besides the flooding problem, Dixon said there are several businesses along the river that can't use it for transportation because it is too shallow.
Andrew David, communications director for Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins, said $240,000 in federal funding was allocated in 2019 for studies that are considered the first step in determining whether the Vermilion River will be dredged.
The Corps is conducting hydrologic and hydraulic analyses of the river, David said. They're examining existing water levels and conduits along with the impacts of dredging the river all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
People south of Lafayette voiced concerns to the Corps about how dredging the Vermilion River would effect them, David said. The Corps, he said, is looking at what removing plugs along the river would do to water flow.
"We view this as the first step to get upstream and downstream communities on the same plan," David said. "There is some progress being done."
Waldon said dredging the river would help alleviate backwater flooding in communities south of Lafayette, too. But they may be concerned that dredging would allow salt water to intrude from the Gulf.
Dredging the Vermilion River is authorized, David said, and money to dredge will be requested in the Corps' next work plan. Depending on the outcome of the studies, the dredging could be done quickly, he said.