DONALDSONVILLE, La. (AP) — Louisiana officials have broken ground on an urgently needed $96 million pumping station that could help revive the wetlands and barrier islands that protect a large area of southern Louisiana from hurricanes and rising sea levels.
The project, held Friday, caps a larger $220 million effort to reconnect the Mississippi River with the 106-mile-long swamp, which flows from Donaldsonville and empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Port Fourchon.
“This is tremendous for the entire state,” Governor John Bel Edwards said during the ceremony. “The lack of fresh water reaching the swamp has endangered the wetlands and the drinking water supply for 300,000 people. And it robbed this region of one of its most picturesque canals for far too long.”
Bayou Lafourche was cut off from the Mississippi, its main source of fresh water, more than a century ago, leading to a series of environmental problems, including the loss of wetlands south of Houma and New Orleans.
The new station will be built on the river levee in downtown Donaldsonville next to a nearly 70-year-old pump. The additional pumping capacity will triple the river’s flow into the swamp and protect drinking water supplies for the Ascension, Assumption, Lafourche and Terrebonne districts, as well as combat saltwater intrusion into the Lafourche and Terrebonne estuaries, which experience some of the highest rates of land loss in the world.
“The importance of this project to the Bayou region and to our state cannot be overstated,” said Edwards. “The pump station will protect nearly 10 percent of Louisiana’s drinking water supply while nourishing more than 85,000 acres of wetland in some of the country’s most land-needed areas. We are investing more than ever in protection and restoration projects on our coastline, and it is clear that these efforts will continue to benefit Louisiana for decades to come.”
Work to restore Bayou Lafourche and build the pumping station has been ongoing since Hurricane Gustav in 2008. The storm churned up mud and debris that blocked the mouth of the swamp, polluting it.
“After Gustav, that water was stagnant and disgusting,” US Rep. Garrett Graves, R-Baton Rouge, said at the event, which drew about 75 people. “You could smell the swamp for miles.”
The Bayou Lafourche Freshwater District has spent the past 11 years preparing the swamp for increased flows from the pumping station, The Advocate reported. The district widened and deepened several miles of the swamp, raised a railroad crossing at Donaldsonville, installed water control gates, and removed a small dam at Thibodaux.
The district has been trying to get approval for the new pump station since 2016. Progress slowed after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Donaldsonville leaders raised a number of concerns, including noise, aesthetics and historic preservation.
The new pump station will have a minimum pumping capacity of 1,000 cubic feet per second and will be built next to the existing 450 cubic feet per second pump station that will remain in service. It is expected to be completed and operational in June 2025.
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