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Department of Natural Resources and Nature Conservancy to Restore Atchafalaya Basin

Ann Marie Awad

During a noisy reception at the Atchafalaya Welcome Center in Butte La Rose in December, the Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy signed a Memorandum of Understanding to restore the Bayou Sorrel region of the Atchafalaya Basin.

Last summer, The Nature Conservancy purchased over 5,000 acres of land around Bayou Sorrel, a key part of this MOU.

The Department of Natural Resources has wanted to restore this part of the Atchafalaya Basin for years. But Don Heydel, the director of the department’s Atchafalaya Basin Program, says they’ve had trouble getting projects started. “We’ve run into opposition from landowners. So when The Nature Conservancy was able to purchase this land, they became a willing landowner to work with us to do the project we had originally designed.”

Typically, water flows through the Atchafalaya Basin from north to south. But many canals and levees have been built in an east-west direction, impeding that flow. The Nature Conservancy’s Bryan Piazza says that problem can be readily fixed. “Gaping spoil banks or gaping levees that have been built along canals that are cut in an east-west direction and getting water across those canals so that it can flow again from the north to south.”

Jim Bergen, also with The Nature Conservancy, puts it another way. “We just gotta fix the plumbing a little bit,” he says.

When water gets backed up, it sits atop the roots of cypress and tupelo trees. If the water sits for too long, the trees suffocate. Bergen says the goal of the restoration project is to get water into and out of cypress forests quickly: “Move that water through and then when the high water comes up those nourishing sediment-laden waters can nourish, fertilize those forests, but then they can keep moving on through.”

The Nature Conservancy and the Department of Natural Resources want to have these restoration features constructed within the next year.