A Little Blue Heron tends to her chicks at a rookery on Jefferson Island in the Atchafalaya Basin. (Photo by Tim Mueller via the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area).
Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday signed an executive order creating the Atchafalaya River Basin Restoration and Enhancement (ARBRE) Task Force in an effort to address long-standing environmental issues in the basin and raise public awareness of those issues.
“The irony of the Atchafalaya Basin is that while it is suffering from an abundance of sediment, the rest of our coast is experiencing a severe sediment deficit,” Edwards said in a press release. “The basin’s stressors are not only harming water quality and the environment but also threatening the capacity of the basin to carry flood waters from the Mississippi and Red Rivers safely and effectively.”
Larger than the Florida Everglades, the Atchafalaya Basin is the nation’s largest river-basin swamp and harbors a rich ecology across its nearly one million acres of swamps, bayous, backwater lakes and the largest contiguous bottomland hardwood forest in North America, according to the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area. The basin begins near Simmesport, La., in Avoyelles Parish and stretches 140 miles southward to the Gulf of Mexico.
Among the task force’s goals are to identify and build support for new and recurring sources of funding, to identify shared goals and values, and to build consensus and advise the Atchafalaya Basin Program on matters relating to the implementation of the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System – Louisiana Project and its importance to the state’s coastal program.
The Atchafalaya Basin is one of the most recognizable sources of Louisiana’s unique cultural heritage and lifestyle fueled by an abundance of plants and wildlife, and vast opportunities to experience its beauty. The basin also serves a critical role in the flood protection of Louisiana’s citizens. However, manmade changes have modified historical flow patterns and impacted the hydrology and habitats of the basin, resulting in degraded water quality, excessive sedimentation, proliferation of invasive aquatic species, and rising conflicts among stakeholders, the governor’s press release said.
“The Atchafalaya Basin has long been a priority system for us,” said Keith Ouchley, state director for the Nature Conservancy, Louisiana. “These are serious issues that we have not been able to address for a long time, but public awareness can go a long way in helping to address them.”
The Task Force will submit an initial report on Sept. 1, 2021, to the CPRA Board. The report and associated efforts will seek to elevate critical issues within the basin and the importance of holistic management for navigation, flood control, economics, and restoration.
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