Interest in years-long efforts to fix the Amite River has rekindled since last summer's flood.
Between St. Amant and French Settlement, a diversion canal forms a fork in the river. Built in the 1950s, the canal was supposed to help the river drain into Lake Maurepas during floods. Instead, it's starving the Amite and nearby wetlands.
A man-made canal is draining the Amite River dry, and to save it, officials will have to red…
"The old (river) channel has very little water flowing through it. ... The old part of the river is completely clogged up," said Dietmar Rietschier, executive director of the Amite River Basin Commission.
The two channels are separated by a rock weir, a sort of underwater dam intended to direct most of the flow down the river. However, the weir has not been maintained and has crumbled over the decades. Now, most of the river water flows into the diversion canal, leaving the river dry. The little amount that does flow into the lower Amite is filled with sediment and doesn't contain sufficient oxygen for wildlife, according to a 2011 Department of Environmental Quality study. Moreover, the diversion canal's high banks don't allow water to drain into the Maurepas Swamp.
Last month, state and local officials held a closed-door meeting to discuss possible solutions. There are three options on the table — rebuild the weir, dredge the river and cut more drainage vents into the canal, said state Rep. Clay Schexnayder.
"Any of them are great. There's no one project that's going to fix all of it," he said.
Ascension, Livingston and East Baton Rouge parishes all have a responsibility to care for the river, but the three haven't always pitched in, the representative said. However, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's administration has been more collaborative, and Livingston Parish has expressed interest in putting some of its flood prevention money into the Amite.
Over a lunch of fish and grits Thursday, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome addressed thre…
After a disaster, the federal government gives funding to states to perform what's known as hazard mitigation. Mitigation pays for 75 percent of project costs; local governments have to take on 25 percent.
Mark Harrell, Livingston's director of emergency management, said that if rebuilding the weir and dredging the river is approved for mitigation funding, his parish would be willing to put up 75 percent of the project cost out of its mitigation allotment if Ascension and East Baton Rouge chip in the required 25 percent match.
An engineering firm estimated it will cost about $9 million to rebuild the weir, but Schexnayder said the quote assumed building material would have to be shipped in on a barge. That isn't the case, so he's fishing around for a lower offer. Quotes for the other two projects should come in over the next few weeks.
Schexnayder and Harrell said work on the Amite would help drainage during high water, though Rietschier said the primary aims of dredging and rebuilding the weir are to preserve the environment and enable navigation, not address flood control.
Any time there's sediment in a river, it displaces the water it can carry, Harrell said. And there's a lot of sediment in the Amite River, he said, noting it shallows to about 2 feet at the mouth of Lake Maurepas.
The third option — cutting more channels into the diversion canal — is being handled a bit differently because it's being overseen by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Last year, the state made three channels and replanted some of the marsh plants, which are dying without the nutrients brought downstream from the river, officials have said.
Crews dug channels on the north side of the diversion canal, and Schexnayder wants to see them dig more on the south side so more water can drain out of the canal and into the swamp.
"That'll help a lot" to relieve flooding, he said.
Harrell cautioned that residents can't expect any single project to totally address flooding in the area.
"There's just so much that needs to be done," he said. "If we don't start, we're never going to get there."