Reconnecting Bayou Lafourche is goal of massive restoration effort

Bayou Lafourche is a popular boating area for residents, and continuing improvements are going to make it a special place for visitors from all over. (Photo courtesy Friends of Bayou Lafourche)

Bayou Lafourche has been largely disconnected from the Mississippi River for almost 120 years, threatening freshwater drinking supplies to several South Louisiana communities and adversely affecting fisheries and coastal wetlands.

For more than a decade, the Bayou Lafourche Freshwater District has worked with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the Corps of Engineers, community leaders and residents to invest $180 million in a host of restoration projects to reconnect the bayou to its historic headwaters.

Cleaning and dredging from Donaldsonville south to Belle Rose is complete. Bridges have been widened to allow for 400 cubic feet per second of water to be pumped into the bayou at Donaldsonville without flooding low-lying areas while flood control structures have been removed and renovated.

Seeking bids

The Freshwater District is now seeking bids to build a new $77 million pump station at Donaldsonville designed to reliably move up to 1000 cubic feet per second. In May 2021, the District also removed a 50-year-old weir in Thibodaux built to ensure high enough water levels to provide drinking water, but now obsolete thanks to increased water flows.

Additional dredging will begin from Napoleonville to Thibodaux upon completion of the new pump station.

Primarily, the work aims to provide reliable drinking water to more than 300,000 residents in Ascension, Assumption, Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes. Stagnant water, invasive vegetation and siltation has led to bacteria blooms in the wakes of hurricanes and saltwater intrusion has contaminated the bayou over the last century.

An added benefit is increased access for boaters, anglers and kayakers as well as a continuous source of freshwater that can help keep saltwater intrusion at bay while benefitting swamps and wetlands in parts of Lafourche and Terrebonne Parish.

Few South Louisiana anglers know Bayou Lafourche supports a large population of bass, catfish and other popular freshwater species. Improving water quality will improve that fishery.

Ryan Perque is the Executive Director of the Friends of Bayou Lafourche, a non-profit that works with the Bayou Lafourche Freshwater District to enhance recreational opportunities along the bayou and organize and promote events that highlight the restoration efforts.

New launches

“Over the last few years we’ve built floating docks and kayak launches along the bayou in Thibodaux and in Napoleonville and we are planning a new boat launch and recreational park in Thibodaux, all designed to expand opportunity to fish, paddle and spend time on the bayou,” Perque said. “As much as we can, we want to bring the bayou back to what it was before it was cut off from the Mississippi River in the early 1900s, which we know will help slow coastal land loss and improve the health of the lands in lower Lafourche and parts of Terrebonne.”

Swamps and freshwater marshes adjacent to the bayou near Larose and Cut Off sustained severe damage during Hurricane Ida last August. Restoring freshwater flows into those swamps and marshes can help restore some of the damage from the storm and increase resiliency.

“This is another infrastructure win for South Louisiana,” said Congressman Garret Graves in a statement released in January. Graves was the chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority when the cleaning and dredging projects began on the bayou in the wakes of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 and has worked to expedite permitting and construction while in Congress. “This project helps improve the connection of the Mississippi River and the Lafourche basin — helping restore the health of the bayou and adjacent communities. People have been talking about improving freshwater flows for decades. We are excited this next component is moving forward.”