Re-establishing flow to Basin may prevent another flood event

Jody Meche, a crawfisherrman and Henderson, Louisiana, town councilman, speaks Oct. 24, 2016, about drainage in and around the Atchafalaya Basin at a meeting on regional drainage at Vermilionville in Lafayette, Louisiana.
(Photo: Claire Taylor/Daily Advertiser)
Jody Meche, a crawfisherrman and Henderson, Louisiana, town councilman, speaks Oct. 24, 2016, about drainage in and around the Atchafalaya Basin at a meeting on regional drainage at Vermilionville in Lafayette, Louisiana. (Photo: Claire Taylor/Daily Advertiser)

LAFAYETTE, La. (The Daily Advertiser) – At a second meeting Monday of Acadiana representatives to discuss regional drainage issues, some suggested low-cost, immediate improvements, like dredging the Vermilion River while others proposed longer-term and more costly projects like control structures along the Atchafalaya Basin.

St. Martin Parish President Guy Cormier organized meetings in September and on Monday of Acadiana parish and city officials, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and levee districts to discuss how government agencies can work together on a regional drainage plan to help prevent widespread flooding.

In mid-August, more than 20 inches of rain fell on some parts of Acadiana, flooding thousands of homes.

Several of the 60 or so in attendance Monday at Vermilionville spoke about diverting floodwater into the Atchafalaya Basin during heavy rain events. St. Martin Parish held water six weeks after the mid-August rainfall that sent between 1 inch and 4 1/2 feet of water into some St. Martin Parish homes.

When the Corps of Engineers built the west guide levee along the Atchafalaya Basin following the devastating 1927 Mississippi River flood, it stopped natural waterways from emptying into the basin during heavy rainfall, causing water to back up and flood homes, Cormier said.

Jody Meche, a St. Martin Parish crawfisherman and Henderson town council member, agreed that the Corps cut off flow between natural bayous and the Atchafalaya Basin. Spoil banks reaching 35 feet tall, created from dredging canals in the Basin, also stop its ability to act as a flood plain, he said.

“We have to figure out a way to get water into the Basin,” Meche said. “We could’ve put 15 feet of water in the Basin during the flood.”

Harold Schoeffler, chairman of the Acadian Group Sierra Club, previously noted that the Vermilion River at Rotary Point in Lafayette is very shallow due to sediment.

Cormier said he took a boat ride Saturday looking at depths and confirmed Schoeffler’s findings. The river depth falls from 10 1/2 feet down to 4 feet at Rotary Point and is shallow at every bridge due to sediment and debris. Removing that sediment would increase the river’s capacity to hold more water and wouldn’t cost a lot of money, he said.

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