Officials signed an agreement Wednesday laying out the financing plan for a $65 million expansion of the pumps that supply fresh water to Bayou Lafourche and the more than 300,000 people who rely on it for drinking water.

The money will allow the Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District to build a new pumping station along the Mississippi River in Donaldsonville, tripling the current capacity to send river water down the bayou. The new station will be built next to the district's current pumping station on the Mississippi.

Bayou Lafourche stretches 106 miles from the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, threading through Donaldsonville, Napoleonville, Thibodaux and Raceland.

Along the way, the bayou provides fresh water not only for homeowners and local businesses but also for offshore oil exploration companies based at Port Fourchon and coastal Louisiana's fading swamps and marshes.

Under the deal signed Wednesday, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will loan the Fresh Water District $65 million at low interest and then the district and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority will pay it back over 15 years, district and state officials said.

By spreading out the CPRA's commitment to the new pumping station, the deal also allows the agency to put up money for an $18.5 million floodgate at Grand Bayou that is part of the Morganza to the Gulf Levee System.

Construction on the floodgate is expected to start by the end of the year, CPRA officials said in a statement Wednesday. 

The 147-foot-long barge-type floodgate will be built about three miles south of La. 24 and a quarter-mile north of the Pointe-Aux-Chenes Wildlife Management Area. 

Ben Malbrough, executive director of the Fresh Water District, said that with the financing deal laid out in principle, the district expects to seek construction bids for the new pump station in the first part of 2020 and have construction start by the middle of the year. A formal loan agreement with DEQ still has to be signed.

"To meet the great needs we have in coastal Louisiana, we have to think strategically and take advantage of every funding opportunity available in order to move projects from the drawing board to construction," Chip Kline, CPRA chairman, said in the statement. "This agreement is certainly creative, and is the result of a great deal of cooperation and coordination."

Progress on the new pumping station comes a few years after the district had financed a bayou dredging project from Donaldsonville to Napoleonville and a new railroad bridge over the bayou to ease the path of water downstream.

The formerly clogged bayou and the old railroad crossing, an earthen levee with culverts, had limited the district's ability to run its existing pumps fully, much less add new ones, without creating flooding problems in Donaldsonville.

DEQ has offered the Fresh Water District a loan through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which is aimed at projects that improve water quality. CPRA has committed $50 million to pay off the loan and the Fresh Water District will cover the remaining $15 million.

CPRA is using Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act revenues the agency expects to receive from offshore federal oil and gas leases. The district will use revenues from its 2.03 mill property tax and the water usage fees that area water systems pay the district.

Malbrough said the DEQ loan has been offered at 0.95% interest.

The Fresh Water District envisions at least a 1,000-cubic-feet-per-second pumping station built on piers and elevated over Mississippi River batture land. The current station has a capacity of about 500 cfs and is expected to continue operations.

Malbrough said construction is expected to last two years but will also be subject to river flooding on the batture property, which the district bought from the city of Donaldsonville a few months ago for $120,000.

Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.

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