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Lake life

Happy New, Wet Year

Happy New, Wet Year.

That’s right. Today’s first article isn’t about ducks or deer or crappie or fish baits. It’s about water. Lots of water. You drive over the Mississippi or Ouachita River bridges and it looks like spring flooding is about to hit. You walk through the woods and if you take more than three steps without making a splash, you are on a hill. There is even so much water ducks don’t even know where to go.

The hot topic around Lake D’Arbonne is definitely high water. Fortunately, even though we’ve had record rainfalls, they have been spread out a bit and haven’t caused major flooding. The use of the tainter gates has also helped. You have to remember, though, those small gates can move a lot of water, but trying to stop a major flood with them is like trying to drain an Olympic swimming pool with a soda straw.

Some people won’t like it, but there are properties, some just land and some with houses and camps, that have flooded since the lake was built in the late 1950’s. When Mother Nature decides she’s going to flood them again, she will. We can’t stop it. In 2013, the state put up $8.7 million of our taxpayer dollars to help with that. It can help, but it can’t stop it every time. Why? We built a dam. We made a lake. It drains a 1,700 mile square area in three Louisiana parishes and four Arkansas counties. That is a huge watershed. It’s going to fill up and overflow with water sometimes. That’s just the way it is.

Here’s something else that some folks won’t like, but one reason Lake D’Arbonne has been such a great lake all this time is because of naturally seasonal water level fluctuation (i.e. high in the spring and low in the fall). Fish populations thrive in that kind of situation.

Folks that have been around a while and know this lake can tell you something else that is going on with heavy use of the tainter gates. When the lake was high before, high water would flow down through the lake pretty much in a pattern where deeper water was. When tainter gates wide open, that isn’t the case. The current from draining water goes from shore to shore, causing stress on seawalls, boat houses and is causing silting over a lot of good fish spawning areas. It has already changed the bottom of the lake in places and will continue to do so. Nobody knows the long-term effect of that, mainly because nobody wants to ask. We might not like the answer.

It’s also changing Bayou D’Arbonne and the fish and wildlife habitat there. If you don’t believe it, just ask folks that actually spend time on the water down there, not just on Facebook. You can look at the picture taken below the tainter gates and see just what kind of turbidity is hitting the bayou when the gates are wide open. It goes all the way to the Ouachita River.

Most folks learned in high school science about cause and effect. You know, like “When water is heated, the molecules move quickly, therefore the water boils.” Or, “Because the cat was frightened, it arched its back, fluffed its tail and bit its owner”. Well, when millions of gallons of water are sucked out of the lake quickly, or flushed down the bayou quickly. That’s a “cause”. What’s the “effect”? Hopefully not something that will come back to bite us. It deserves a look from people who know about these things. And no, that isn’t me.

Now before folks with low-lying property get mad, everyone empathizes with the fact that there is water in your yard, over your pier and in some cases over your road. I wish that didn’t happen. But this is nothing new. Efforts have been made to help, but it can’t be totally stopped. No matter how much you hammer the Police Jury, the DOTD, the Lake Commission, etc., they can’t change the fact that the lake will flood in certain areas unless a majority of people are willing to keep the lake about three feet low all the time. No? I didn’t think so. They are being more proactive opening the gates sooner in weeks like these. I’d like to see it done in a manner where the release isn’t so dramatic. The slower the better, even if that means they need to start earlier.

Managing a plan that meets as many needs as possible should also include consideration for property owners who are not flood prone who have invested millions in their boat docks, piers and property as well. Changing the whole hydrology of the lake shouldn’t be taken lightly. Simply put, there’s a whole lot more to this story than just the level of the water.

Those are my thoughts on the matter. Others think differently and I respect that as well. The bottom line is that Lake D’Arbonne is the biggest economic engine in Union Parish and one of the largest in this entire area. The lake and the property around it need to be taken care of in a planned, common sense, scientific way. Not just on a whim. There’s way too much at stake long term.

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