$130 million project aims to save Louisiana’s Maurepas Swamp

Without a drink of fresh water, scientists warn half the swamp will disappear

Coast in Crisis: Project aims to save Louisiana’s Maurepas Swamp

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Coastal scientist John Lopez steers a boat down the Blind River near Gramercy as it winds through the Maurepas Swamp.

“All the trees you see here are second growth,” said Lopez, Coast and Community Program Director for the Lake Pontchartrain Conservancy (formerly the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation).

“All of this was completely logged.”

The trees, which seem like giants, are about 100 years old, barely teenagers by cypress standards.

Here and there, an alligator surfaces, but Lopez says compared to other parts of the state, their numbers are small.

“If you lack top predators, it’s an indication that the ecosystem is not doing too well,” Lopez said.

Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority plans to stick a straw into the Mississippi River, aa five-and-a-half mile long channel to feed up to 2,000 cubic feet per second of fresh water into the swamp.

The aim is to mimic the spring annual floods that no longer happen since man walled off the river with levees.

“It’s going to supercharge this area with life,” said Chris Macaluso, Center for Marine Fisheries Director for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “You’ll see almost an immediate increase in bird life, fish activity, bass, blue gill, catfish, all the things that anglers in this area like to catch.”

The diversion would flow into the swamp immediately adjacent to the West Shore Levee Protection Project, which is designed to protect the river parishes from hurricanes.

“To me, it’s the perfect marriage of restoration and traditional flood protection,” Lopez said.

Much larger diversion projects downriver have sparked bitter fights over pushing the river into fisheries, but not in this spot.

Advocates point out that while the larger diversions would flow largely into open bays, the Maurepas Diversion would benefit an area where there is already abundant fresh water vegetation.

Scientists warn about half the Maurepas Swamp will disappear without the fresh water infusion.

The $130 million project will be funded through fines and settlements from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

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