Drawdown of False River extended another 45 days to help efforts to restore the lake _lowres

Advocate file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Gavin Clement of False River, left, and Kraig Strenge of Lafayette launch their boats at the public boat launch near Morel's Restaurant on False River in New Roads, Sunday, August 31.

The Pointe Coupee Parish Police Jury on Tuesday unanimously extended the drawdown of False River by an additional 45 days to help the ongoing restoration efforts in the oxbow lake’s south end.

The jury’s action was taken at the request of state Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, who told jurors keeping the lake’s water level under its normal 16.5 feet elevation would help contractors building a 16.5-acre containment dike in the lake’s southern region maintain their 315-day timeline for the project.

“The most crucial part of this project is maintaining the integrity of that levee,” Thibaut said “This will allow the dike to have a little bit more time to dry.”

Thibaut said giving the containment dike time to bake in sunlight will minimize the amount of erosion on the dike’s west side, reduce the risk of overtopping and the structure’s potential failure during a storm event, curtail the lake’s turbidity and improve the strength of its foundation.

However, the 45-day extension will only keep the lake’s water level 1 foot below its normal water level until May 1.

State officials gave the Police Jury the authority to reduce the lake’s water level from 16.5 feet to approximately 13.5 feet for the past six months as a cost-cutting measure to build the containment dike, which officials said previously would address the siltation issues that are at the root of the lake’s more than 20-year decline.

Gerald Babin, vice president with Professional Engineering Consultants Corporation, said the lake’s water level is only slightly above 15 feet right now since the original drawdown concluded on March 1.

“Knowing the water level is back up, I’ve been talking to him and I want to make sure we give (the contractor) a chance to work in the right condition,” Babin said. “The lake used to be at 15 feet for the longest time. It’s a level a lot of people can live with and the contractor can live with.”

Earlier this year, residents living along the lake’s 22-mile shoreline complained that the drawdown was damaging their seawalls and the bulkheads of their lakefront properties. They met with state officials and parish officials in January to express those concerns.

Babin, who is looking into those claims, said the contractor is doing “a great job” on the dike and feels confident the project will be complete by September — pending good weather conditions in the next few months.

“I know we’re getting close to summertime so we’ll have to get the water level back up by May 1,” he said.

Contractors are dredging the sediment buildup on the lake’s floor and using it to build the containment dike that will act as a dam to block further sediment buildup in the rest of the waterway.

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.

State officials have said lower water levels help promote growth of key vegetation that stifles the buildup of thick sediment along the lake bed.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter @tjonesreporter.