NEW ROADS — July is the new target date for the Army Corps of Engineers to present preliminary results from its study to determine how to address False River’s declining water quality, a corps official said Friday.
The study has been plagued by stops and starts since it began in 2001. The study went unfunded between 2003 and 2009 as it competed against other projects nationwide for federal dollars, officials have said.
The corps received word in December that the federal government allocated the $400,000 necessary to finish the study.
The availability of the $400,000 set in motion a timeline in which the corps expected to provide the public a snapshot in April of the likely fixes needed to address the lake’s troubled ecosystem, said Nick Sims, a corps project manager.
That timeline, however, was interrupted when corps staffers were pulled from the project to focus on flooding risks posed by the swollen Mississippi River, Sims said.
With the snapshot now on track for July, the corps should have a final plan in place by February to remove muck buildups from the lakebed and to stop large sediment plumes from pouring into the lake from nearby drainage canals, Sims said.
But there is no guarantee the corps plans will be put into action.
The study is being conducted as part of the federal CAP, or Continuing Authority Program, which limits the corps to spending about $5 million on the project.
The program has become a victim of federal spending cuts with the U.S. Congress mandating that $100 million be stripped from the corps’ budget, Sims said.
If the False River project is awarded the funds, the Pointe Coupee Parish government would have to chip in the required 35 percent match, or as much as $2.5 million, to move forward with the corps’ findings, parish officials have said.
If everything falls into place, the corps likely would move ahead with one or more of the following options: building rock weirs to keep sediment out, dredging portions of the lake or building sediment traps, Sims said.
Another more divisive alternative is a drawdown — a temporary lowering of False River’s water level — by as many as 6 feet, allowing sunlight to reach the lakebed and decompose muck buildups, Sims said.
Last year, biologists with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries called for a slow drawdown of the 3,000-acre oxbow lake at a rate of 2 inches per day starting after Labor Day and continuing into late January.
Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham canceled the drawdown, however, calling it a temporary fix and saying he preferred to let the corps finish its study.
Completing the study would allow the corps and Wildlife and Fisheries to work together in finding long-term solutions to restore the lake’s health, he said.
Barham said Wildlife and Fisheries would move forward with a drawdown if it is a part of the corps’ final recommendations.
In the interim, public meetings have gotten heated as recreational lake users who support a drawdown have clashed with homeowners concerned about possible property damage a drawdown might cause.
Patricia Schnur, president of the False River Civic Association, said homeowners she represents are skeptical that a drawdown is the right solution for False River.
Lowering water levels, she said, wouldn’t stop the influx of silt from settling in the lake.
Furthermore, a drawdown could damage waterfront bulkheads, wreak havoc on lakefront properties and compromise the integrity of the Mississippi River levee.
The association strongly supports the corps study which “will use a science-based approach ... that will work for all stakeholders by correcting the root causes and that will prevent unintended and potentially costly consequences,” Schnur said.
Drawdown supporter Keith Robillard said he has seen a once-clear body of water full of trophy bass deteriorate into a murky lake thriving with less-desirable fish.
Opponents of the drawdown are sharply focused on dredging the lake, a multimillion-dollar idea that likely would never receive the necessary funding, he said.
A drawdown is a free and simple solution that mimics the natural way bodies of water regulate themselves, he said.
“The state is going to draw down seven other lakes this year,” Robillard said. “Why is False River treated differently, and why is a state agency waiting on a federal agency to carry out a project on a state-managed lake?”
Some lakes have lots of annual leaf fall and require a yearly drawdown to remove high volumes of organic materials, while other lakes don’t fit in that category, said Mike Wood, Wildlife and Fisheries director of inland fisheries.
“In the case of False River, we’re simply using the available expertise of the corps,” Wood said. “We really prefer to be comfortable when we make that call.”
The lake’s condition won’t get significantly worse if the state waits another year to draw it down, he said.