A Reservoir Without A Cause

 
The Pearl River Basin, seen from above

The Louisiana State Legislature did something this month. And it will actually benefit community members! Thanks to a bill introduced by freshwoman Senator Beth Mizell, residents of Washington Parish will no longer have to fear the Washington Parish Reservoir District.

Established in 2003 for the sole purpose of developing a reservoir, this ‘special district’ has long planned to dam the Bogue Lusa Creek. The Bogue Lusa flows into the Pearl River, eventually into the Gulf. Suffocating the Bogue Lusa would stifle the Pearl’s flow and flood over a thousand acres of wetland forest, habitat that’s rich in biodiversity and hard to recreate. Like all wetlands, these acres buffer wind speeds, absorb storm surges, and filter freshwater supplies.

This decade-long fight has been about more than just wetlands. Louisiana citizens have called the reservoir site home for generations. Were a reservoir ever to materialize, it would flood countless properties and historic gravesites.

Why would homes and heritage be intentionally flooded, you may ask?

The Reservoir District claims the destruction is necessary to maintain supplies of drinking and non-drinking water. The reservoir would also recharge underground aquifers and store floodwaters in case of drought. It would even provide economic and recreational development opportunities. (Will it do my laundry too?) This everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach can be boiled down to a single thought: Let’s create a private pool now, we’ll figure out what for later!

The Army Corps of Engineers denied the Reservoir District a wetland permit last year, after recognizing the disjointed project purpose and weighing public comments from GRN and its members. When we received a tip about Senator Mizell’s bill from a lifelong resident of Washington Parish, it looked like a chance to stop this project for good. In its initial form, the proposed legislation would have dismantled the entire Reservoir District. So I traveled up to Baton Rouge in May, to testify before the Senate’s Local and Municipal Affairs Committee (seen here, beginning at 35 minutes).

Upon my return to the capitol a week later, the bill had been amended. The Reservoir District would no longer disappear. It would however lose its powers of eminent domain and be required to hold open meetings with public notice. The amended bill soon snaked its way up the long legislative ladder to the desk of Governor John Bel Edwards. His signature now ensures a less-powerful, more-transparent Reservoir District. Moving forward, there’s an explicit expectation that any potential reservoir will not relocate community members and their loved ones.

From the Pearl to the Pascagoula, GRN opposes damming scenic and coastal rivers to create ‘fake lakes.’ Our waters and wetlands, our communities and cultures, are worth far more than any misguided development. Water resources can be conserved and developed without drowning history, harming rivers, and destroying ecosystems.

The Mighty Pearl and the wetland forests it supports, as seen from a flyover
The Mighty Pearl and the wetland forests it supports, as seen from a flyover
Louisiana's Capitol, an Art Deco masterpiece
Louisiana's capitol, an Art Deco masterpiece

James Hartwell is GRN's Coastal Wetland Analyst. Photos provided by GRN.

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