Agriculture and outdoor recreation often find themselves at odds with each other. Those disputes can be as earth-changing as clear-cutting rain forests to create farmland in South America or as relatively minor as regulating when and how much water can be pumped out of a waterway to irrigate crops.
One such conflict is the “Battle of Spring Bayou,” which is expected to heat up when a bill to protect the waterway is debated in the upcoming Legislative session.
“The Spring Bayou complex was at a tipping point,” George Israel said. “This area was a disaster last summer and fall. Too much has been invested in restoring Spring Bayou as a fishing and recreation lake to allow a few people to selfishly undo what we have done.”
Israel is vice president of the Spring Bayou Restoration Team, a private organization dedicated to improving outdoor recreation opportunities for the lake.
“We didn’t have a fish-kill during that period, but it came very close,” he said. “There were areas of the waterway that you could not pass a boat through because the water was so low.”
SBRT led the call for action to be taken to regulate pumping out of Spring Bayou when the lake was at low stages. State Rep. Robert Johnson and State Sen. Eric LaFleur have both indicated support for the effort.
HB 853 pre-filed
Johnson has pre-filed House Bill 853, which seeks to change the structure of the Avoyelles Port Commission and adds the authority “to manage withdrawals of water from Spring Bayou” to the commission’s duties.
If that bill passes, the nine-member board would be renamed the Avoyelles Parish Port and Waterway Commission. Its members would be appointed by the District 28 state representative and District 28 state senator. There would be one member from each of the nine Police Jury districts.
“We are not trying to prohibit pumping when water is available,” Israel said. “but when it is near pool stage of 41 feet, they need to rely on wells.”
Israel said SBRT funded the release of over 60,000 grass carp into the bayou to control hydrilla and other water vegetation. The organization has also paid for other improvements on the complex, as well as donating a lot of work hours to the effort.
“If the water level drops and you concentrate those 60,000 expensive fish in a few pools with the alligators, then we lose them all,” he said.
He said one landowner who pumps out of Spring Bayou said he would “pump it dry” if that’s what he needed to do to irrigate his crops.
“SBRT has done a tremendous job of restoring and trying to maintain Spring Bayou,” Israel said. “It is great for the residents and it is good for the parish due to people coming in from around the state and out-of-state. It’s a matter of the greatest good for the greatest number. When the water level is low, the property owners and camp lessees along Spring Bayou suffer.”
Israel said improvements at Boggy Bayou boat launch and the Point landing on Old River “will all be for naught if we don’t control pumping out of Spring Bayou.”
Israel said allowing pumping to threaten the complex “is no longer an option for the multitudes of people who live in, have camps or simply utilize this ‘Sportsman’s Paradise’ for recreation or for tourism to drive an economic engine to generate much-needed revenues for local governments.”
He said that protecting and improving Spring Bayou “is good for the entire community. If we can continue to restore and improve this place, it will be an economic benefit to this area.”
Israel said those in support of the effort should contact Johnson at 253-8891 and LaFleur at (337) 363-5019 and also let their police juror know of their support.
“This would be similar to the Cane River Waterway Commission in Natchitoches Parish,” he said. “Its purpose would be to protect the Spring Bayou waterway.”