Here are some reflections from your Atchafalaya Basinkeeper about the effects of the Great Flood of 2011 on the Atchafalaya Basin.

The Atchafalaya Basin is being flushed out as I write these lines. One thing that I want every American to know is that our government does not enforce our environmental laws equally for everyone. To us ordinary citizens, agencies are ruthless and inflexible when it comes to enforcement, giving us a false sense of security that our environment is really protected from abuses by corporations and some very influential individuals, but the reality is much different. As a result, we have some serious environmental problems in our wetlands. Invasive plant species are very problematic and have often been brought here with the blessing of our government. Examples include Salvinia spp. brought into the country decades ago for use in water gardens, the many species of submerged aquatics brought to the U.S. by corporations for use in aquariums, and water hyacinth. All of these plants create a thick, soup-like situation that has recently gotten so bad that canoeing in the Basin in late spring and summer may be a thing of the past. Invasive plants are so numerous that they choke themselves out; as they rot away they create a "sour bottom", depleting the water of oxygen. Canals and spoil banks, created with the approval of our state and federal agencies, make things even worse, stopping water currents and causing the water to become stagnant. This year, the flood is cleaning up the Basin, washing away some invasive plants and killing others. The sour bottoms are being covered by a layer of mineral sediments, increasing water quality for years to come. Water runs deep over most spoil banks in the Basin. Deep, oxygen-rich water is a boon for fish and crawfish, restoring some of the productivity of the Atchafalaya Basin. Birds like cormorants, anhingas, egrets, ibises, storks, ducks and herons will benefits from the increased fish and crawfish populations for years to come. New wetlands will be created as the Atchafalaya Delta grows, thanks to the tons of sediment carried by the waters of this exceptionally large flood. Cypress and tupelo trees will grow healthier thanks to the new nutrient-rich sediment brought by the flood.

The Atchafalaya Basin's swamps once reached all the way to Simmesport, LA. Excessive sediments, mismanagement by the Corps and the state of Louisiana, and oil and gas industry canals have created extensive upland areas within the Basin. Today, the upper part of the Atchafalaya Basin is mainly farmland, and the middle is mainly bottomland hardwood forest. Our remaining cypress-tupelo swamps, the most productive and important wetlands on the continent and one of the natural wonders of America, are disappearing under tons of Mississippi River sediments. The Corps is accelerating the process by trying to divert 65% of the Mississippi River sediment load into the Atchafalaya Basin. If you look at a satellite picture of the Basin you can see mini-deltas spreading everywhere inside the spillway like a cancer, forever filling in our beloved cypress-tupelo swamps. The flood brings with it huge amounts of new sediments. More sediments means the loss of more of our valuable, inland forested wetlands and a decrease in the water depth of many sloughs, bayous and lakes, forever diminishing the quality and quantity of aquatic habitat. While this flood should be a blessing for our wetlands and the coast, it is going to be a nightmare for thousands of deer, rabbits, bobcats, coyotes, armadillos and a few bears that will drown because of the flood. Fishermen are reporting armadillos on top of floating logs, slowly starving to death. I found two drowned armadillos myself. I also saw a rabbit shaking under a bush just one foot above water, by now the rabbit will have drowned. I once hunted lots of rabbits to feed my family, but that sight brought me deep sorrow. The flood came at the worst possible time-breeding season for birds; most prothonotary warbler nests as well as thousands of nests of other bird species in the Atchafalaya Basin have been wiped out by the rising water. Because of us humans, most neo-tropical species of birds are already in decline-this flood will put an additional strain on some of those populations. The levees and impoundments have created death traps for mammals and birds. Before we leveed the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, water would spread out over millions of acres of floodplain and would not have been much more than an increased blessing for everything.

On May 11 we went on a pre-flood inspection of oil facilities in the Atchafalaya Basin and came across the ultimate bad oil company, WLE. The first thing we found was a possible non-permitted dredging operation and the oil facility from hell. The first oil facility was a well and some oil tanks on a floating barge. The barge was covered in oil, in places half an inch thick, and had leaking pipes, rusty tanks and pieces of dirty pipes everywhere. WLE is an old acquaintance of Atchafalaya Basinkeeper (ABK). In 2009 WLE built an unpermitted dam, blocking fresh water to thousands of acres of wetlands and finally removed the dam after ABK complained to the pipeline owner and the Corps.
Atchafalaya Basinkeeper
P.O. Box 410
Plaquemine, LA 70765
cell: 225-685-9439
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