Last Modified: Monday, May 07, 2012 1:01 PM
Fresh water, a vital component for rice farmers in southwest Louisiana, has been in short supply in the last few years.
Now, there may be a solution, albeit not immediate.
State Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan, authored a resolution in the current legislative session, requesting the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority study the feasibility of diverting water from the Atchafalaya River to the Mermentau River Basin.
Recent drought conditions and increased demand has put pressure on the water tables that supply area rice farmers' need for fresh water to immerse their crop. The drop in available fresh water has led to saltwater intrusion which either stunts or destroys rice.
Steve Linscombe, director of the LSU AgCenter Rice Research Station in Crowley, said saltwater levels were so high last year that many farmers elected not to plant rice.
Linscombe and government officials have turned to a 1950 study that recommended diverting water from the Atchafalaya River into the Mermentau Basin to help feed rice acreage in southwest Louisiana. The study, undertaken by the then state Department of Public Works, said the lack of fresh water at that time was resulting in saltwater intrusion that was tainting irrigation canals and causing wetlands erosion.
U.S. Rep Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, a proponent of the idea, noted that last year's flooding in the Atchafalaya Spillway after water was released to alleviate high water in the Mississippi River did little to help southwest Louisiana farmers.
''While we were up to our necks in water, those boys in the western part of the state were dry as a bone,'' he said.
The 1950s study provided the framework for the Teche-Vermilion Freshwater District diversion project that pumps water from the Atchafalaya River north of Krotz Springs and channels it into Bayou Teche and the Vermilion River. That helps farmers whose land is near the Vermilion, but does nothing for their brethren further to the west.
Work on the Teche-Vermilion Freshwater diversion project began in 1976 and was completed six years later at a cost of $40 million. Donald Sagrera, executive director of the Teche Vermilion Fresh Water District, estimated that the same project would cost more than $100 million today.
He believes a similar project to feed fresh water into the Mermentau River Basin would work.
Three tributaries to the Mermentau River, Bayous Nezpique, Mallet and Plaquemine Brule, are all within 40 miles of the Atchafalaya River.
This project to divert vital freshwater to prime rice acreage in southwest Louisiana certainly has promise. In fact, you might say it's the rice thing to do.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.