BAYOU PIGEON - Crawfish farmers at Randazzo’s Bayou Pigeon Seafood hauled, sprayed and packed their bugs into trucks Thursday afternoon, surrounded by an already-creeping line of water that could soon rise to spell either a flourish or death of their livelihood.
The news that the Morganza Spillway will likely open in the next two weeks, some 70 miles away, is something the humble western Iberville Parish crew sees as a necessary evil – lives are more important than livelihood, they almost all say – but the unknowns are aplenty.
Johnny Johnson has been a commercial crawfisherman since the 1960s and worked through both prior historic Morganza Spillway openings in 1973 and 2011.
State and federal officials said Thursday it was appearing more likely that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would need to open the Morganza S…
He shrugs and shakes his head when asked about the impact on his business. He does his "runs" along the Atchafalaya River into which the spillway would open, but he also lives nearby.
“Crawfish is nothing compared to somebody’s home and life,” he said. “Water gets up inside the levee, I live close by, and if we have a breach we’re going to have to leave in boats.”
The Bayou Pigeon and Bayou Sorrel area will be heavily impacted, not so much by the decision to open the spillway but the decision that comes next about whether to sink the barge at nearby Bayou Chene.
Rep. Beryl Amedée, a Republican from Gray, whose district contains Bayou Chene, explained that the barge was first used as a flood control dam in the 1970s, was sunk in 2011 and then again in 2016.
If authorities choose to sink the barge, it’ll lessen the spillway burden on the Iberville Parish area by limiting backwater flow. But if it stays in place, the water that already flows from their homes south through to the Atchafalaya River is stopped, leading to growing backwater.
Iberville Parish councilman Louis “Pete” Kelley said Thursday that opening the spillway could affect as few as 50 or as many as hundreds of homes, depending on what happens with the barge in Bayou Chene. But, most of his constituents understand that living in where they live means an ongoing risk of flooding.
“It’s time for this water to go somewhere and the (U.S. Army) Corps (of Engineers) knows a lot more about it than we do,” he said Thursday. “Everybody does need to understand it’s a floodway and this is what needs to happen.”
A decision on whether to sink the barge is expected early next week.
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Water was lapping at back patios or to the top of wheels of parked cars at homes nestled along La. 75 on Thursday, residue of a long and heavy wet season. While those homes won't be directly inundated with water once the spillway opened since they are on the other side of a levee, the area is subject to backflow if the Bayou Chene barge is not sunk.
Randazzo’s sits along that same bayou on a small strip of land between two waterways. Sandbags lined the parking lot Thursday as crawfishermen brought in their runs for processing.
Owner Glenda Randazzo said her business already is seeing fewer crawfish coming through its processing facility this season than previous years because of the high water. A production factory where they shell the crawfish has had to be closed down because of standing water, she said.
While high water may seem to layman to be a prime habitat for crawfish to breed, Randazzo explained that water that’s too high, or sits for too long, lacks sufficient oxygen for the crawfish. Fishermen end up coming back to traps of essentially drowned stock.
So, if the spillway’s opening brings in too much water, it could kill off the remaining crawfish for the season, which runs generally from February through July or August. Or it could provide enough fresh moving water to prolong the season through September.
“We’re just dealing with nature here, so there’s a lot we don’t know,” Randazzo said.
Other producers in the path of the spillway have begun to make grim preparations and are already starting to tally the losses.
Mark Carriere, associate county agent in Pointe Coupee Parish for the LSU Agricultural Center, said if the gates are opened, the damage will extend beyond crop loss for agricultural producers.
Once the water goes down, farmers will need to replant, which takes time and money. Those with cattle will have to relocate their animals to other pastures, which can cause overcrowding that damages the land and drives up hay and feed costs, he said.
This has already been a difficult year for farmers. Rainfall has slowed down soybean and cotton planting, he explained.
“This is just something else that they’re having to deal with,” he said.
Since January, Carriere said many farmers who have land along the levees from Pointe Coupee up to Concordia have seen seepage from the Mississippi River, preventing them from managing their crop.
“The seepage water is coming in under the levee and into their fields, and they will mess up their fields with tractors if they get in and get stuck,” Carriere said. “If they do plant, the seed will rot.”
Carriere’s LSU agricultural agent counterpart in St. Landry Parish, Vincent Deshotel, said the last three years have been “a struggle” for the agricultural industry in the state.
“It has not even been normal, because of all the wet weather we had during fall harvest, compounded with the rain and market situations,” Deshotel said. “There’s a financial strain out there for most farmers.”
In the meantime, Carriere said the farmers he works with are doing their best amid the uncertainty.
The Mississippi River has broken a 92-year-old flood record.
“Farmers just do what they have to do,” Carriere said. “They try to be as prepared as possible.”