The Mermentau Basin is a freshwater water source for many rice and crawfish farmers in Vermilion and Acadia Parish. However, when there is a drought, like last summer, saltwater from the Vermilion Parish begins heading north and into the basin. If the basin water becomes too salty, rice farmers try not to use it.
Last year, farmers experienced that same scenario, while farmers on the east end of the state had plenty of freshwater flowing down the Atchafalaya River and the Mississippi River. Parts of the Atchafalaya Basin were flooded to ease the flood waters on the Mississippi River a year ago.
“While we (his district) were drowning, parishes to the west of us were starving for water,” Landry said. If we could solve our (his district) water qualities, we could also solve a big problem that has been occurring in southwest Louisiana for the last 50 years.”
The solution would be to find a way to move freshwater from Atchafalaya River and Mississippi River to the Mermentau River. With the help of parish Senator Jonathan Perry and U.S. Representative Jeff Landry of New Iberia, that may occur one day.
Perry will introduce a resolution in Baton Rouge this week that urges the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to begin studying diverting water out of the Atchafalaya River, and bringing it to Vermilion, Cameron and Acadia parishes.
If the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority begins to study the idea, it will not be the first time a study has been done.
Landry said he has talked to farmers from the Iberia Parish area who said a study was done by the state Department of Public Works in 1954. The study was done to find a way to push back saltwater intrusion that was eating wetlands and tainting irrigation canals.
That same study was a model for the Teche-Vermilion Project, which was completed in 1982. The Teche-Vermilion Project pumps freshwater from the Atchafaylaya River, across parts of the state into water ways north of Opelousas. That freshwater then flows south through the Teche in St. Martin and Iberia Parish, and also down the Vermilion River.
There is a lot of freshwater that flows through the state that is not being used and Landry and Perry would like to put it to good use on the west end of the state.
The game plan would be to reroute water from the Atchafalaya River through a mix of existing waterways, but extra expensive pumps would have to added to push the water. How much the project would cost is still unknown.
A diversion project like this one would require a long-term vision, said Donald Sagrera in a recent article in the Mornign Advocate. Sagrera is the executive director of the Teche-Vermilion Freshwater District.
It took 10 years of planning and raising money before the Teche-Vermilion Freshwater District began, he said. He told the Morning Advocate the project cost $40 million to build then, but would cost around $100 today.
“I think it is definitely a possibility,” Sagrera said. “There is plenty of water in the Atchafalaya River to supply the Mermentau Basin.”