Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Atchafalaya Basin National Park?

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area covers much of the historic Atchafalaya Basin and promotes the cultural and environmental aspects of the whole area that was once part of the overflow basin of the Atchafalaya River and the Mississippi River, through an earlier path than the one with which we are intimately familiar. The Heritage area provides visibility for the Basin but no protection for the land, much of which is now partitioned off as a floodway, which does a laudable job of protecting surrounding property and the people who have settled and developed it.

Throughout the history of Atchafalaya Basin conservation and restoration efforts, the suggestion was raised several times to designate parts of the Basin as a National Park. The Atchafalaya Basin Program even invited representatives of the Park Service to address its Advisory Committee about the possibilities. The story was always the same; the Floodway had been so heavily modified that it did not fit the criteria for a National Park.

Now, Harold Shoeffler and the Sierra Club Acadiana Chapter have issued a new plea to revisit the idea of an Atchafalaya National Park, but with a different twist. This idea would identify about 100,000 acres of public water bottoms, outside the West Atchafalaya Protection Levee, including very old cypress trees that were not logged in the early 20th century because they were stunted, apparently from sitting in water continuously, on the edge of the lakes. These areas and the adjacent shore lines are generally not inhabited and are essentially pristine, unlike the modified environment inside the levees.

Talks are underway or planned with our Federal representatives and, if the Congress would once again raise the priorities on environmental preservation, we might actually have a shot at establishing a protected area, adjacent to the Floodway, and representative of the historic beauty and importance of the Atchafalaya Basin.

Go, Harold!


MRC Presentation August 2014

Monday, September 1st, 2014

This is the document delivered to the Mississippi River Commission in August 2014 at the hearing in Houma after the Corps of Engineers low-water boat trip down the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya:



This is the short  oral presentation made in the hearing, in conjunction with the delivery of the above document:




Is it again time for a change?

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Breaking News

The 2014 budget proposal from Governor Bobby Jindal contains the following entries.


 • The Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Department of Environmental Quality will consolidate and share management and finance functions such as human resources and information technology for the three agencies. Consolidation will eliminate duplication of effort in these agencies in desktop support, server and network support, operating cost and personnel. As part of this consolidation effort, there is a statewide savings in State General Fund of $2.3 million and a reduction of 36 Authorized (Appropriated) Table of Organization Full Time Equivalents (T.O. FTEs).

 • The Atchafalaya Basin Program in the Office of the Secretary has been eliminated, and its functions will be taken over by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Reference: 2014 Budget Proposal by Gov. Jindal

(Note that this relates to the Atchafalaya Basin Program, not the Atchafalaya Heritage Area in the Lt. Governor’s Office.)


In the late 1990’s, the Atchafalaya Basin Program was envisioned as an agency that would create an official process for protecting a resource considered by many of us to be invaluable to all of us, the area in and around the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway.

A volunteer committee met with resource agency personnel and professional planners to create a Master Plan that addressed water quality, public access, environmental protection, and public recreation aspects of floodway management.

In 1999, the Louisiana Legislature approved the Plan and enabled the Atchafalaya Basin Program for 15 years in the LA Department of Natural Resources.

In its early years, the program was most successful in addressing recreation and public access projects; water management efforts proved difficult, expensive, and frought with controversy. As the State’s Federal partner and the agency responsible for managing the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System (ABFS) , the US Army Corps of Engineers moved ahead slowly with purchases of land and environmetal protection easements in the Floodway System. Frustration grew in many supporters with the lack of environmental progress; other groups collected State and Federal dollars and built impressive recreation projects.

A Course Correction

In 2008, the Program was modified to address the difficulty of completing water management projects by directing the focus of the Basin Program away from recreation features and toward water management and public access projects, adding a more formal structure to project selection, and enhancing the scientific review process.

Since that time, strides have been made in increasing transparency and public access to planning and review processes. A Technical Advisory Group of scientists from Federal and State resource agencies and academia now reviews all project proposals, most originated by public participants and local government offices. Historical trend data and remote sensing technologies are used to analyze and predict the effects of the proposals. With these improvements, the Program still struggles with landowner resistance and fiscal issues. In 2010, the public accepted a constitutional amendment setting up a potentially ongoing fund to provide money for restoration projects but the conditions for income to begin building have not been met and the Program continues to exist year by year.

It has also become clear in the past few years that the original design of the floodway, completed before the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act and with little regard for environmental issues, has degraded habitat and human recreational resources, and that a new approach is needed for ABFS management. Data collected during the major flood of 2011 indicated that more areas than had been anticipated were isolated from life-giving flood water and subsequent drainage.

In addition, powerful interests have thwarted efforts to use the construction permitting process to improve water quality and curb degradation. Land owners and resource extraction and tranport companies have minimized expenditures on environmentally sound construction practices and long term maintenance of modifications, at the expense of wildlife habitat and public recreation opportunities. These practices ultimately translate to public subsidies when government tries to rehabilitate damaged areas.

But failure to maintain adequate wild areas is not just a wildlfe and receation issue; increasing development around populated areas requires adequate forests, wetlands and grasslands to sustain human existence on this crowded planet.

The dangerous situation in which we find ourselves demands leadership. It requires more than mindless rhetoric about cutting costs; it needs thoughtful consideration of our survival needs and intelligent policy decisions that can actually improve the dire conditions that we find in the Great Swamp.

In case we haven’t noticed, the choices are no longer between sacrifices or not; they are  between which sacrifices we are willing to choose. Whatever you believe is the cause, climate change is upon us and many are already feeling effects, from stronger storms and worse floods to forced relocation as our land is washed away. Coastal land loss was aggravated by past decisions on flood control approaches and by our desire to minimize the cost of fuel and building materials, and future impacts will depend on future decisions.

The argument about whether to eliminate the Atchafalaya Basin Program and move the responsibility for  protecting and/or restoring the Floodway to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is a distraction and could be positive or negative, depending on whether we have the courage to look past the budget implications and address the importance of protecting our remaining quasi-natural areas. These are not isolated issues of specific wildlife habitat or hunting and fishing locations; these are subjects that affect our survival as a species and the priorities need to be addressed calmly and thoughtfully, by all the affected individuals. That is the way that the Atchafalaya Basin Program started, and it is how it should proceed, in whatever form it takes.

Charles R. Caillouet, Jr.
Friends of the Atchafalaya Secretary/Treasurer webmaster
(The opinions herein are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the FOA Board or membership.)
To comment, mail to charlesc at
Direct comments to posts have been disabled because of online abuse.

More Comments on Corps Master Plan

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Several partner organizations have released their comments on the Draft Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System Project, Louisiana Master Plan and have agreed to let us post them here.

You will find common threads among all of the comments. Most groups are seriously concerned about the environmental health of the lands and waters inside (and outside) the Floodway, and have stated that concern in their comments. There seems to be a consensus that a higher priority should be given to the protection and restoration of the remaining quasi-natural environment, heavily modified as it may be.

This quote from comments submitted by the Atchafalaya Basin Program sums up most of the sentiments.

“We understand that the primary function of the ABFS is flood control, and Louisianans certainly appreciate the successful implementation of that function, especially during the flood event of 2011. However, we are deeply concerned about the priority and pace of the protection, preservation, and restoration activities that are essential in preventing the permanent loss of this unique environment.”

The organizations and individuals whose comments are available are: [click on name to download comments]

Atchafalaya BasinKeeper

Atchafalaya Basin Program [PDF Format]

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area  [PDF Format]

Louisiana Wildlife Federation  [Microsoft Word format]

Ruffled Grouse Society  [PDF Format]

Sierra Club – Delta Chapter

Willie Fontenot  [Microsoft Word format]

If you would like your comments posted here, mail them to me at charlesc [at]

FOA Comments on Corps ABFS Plan

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

On July 18, 2012, FOA submitted comments to the US Army Corps of Engineers on the 2012 Draft Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System Project, LA Master Plan.

Copies of the Cover Letter from President Charlie Fryling and the detailed comments, in both Microsoft Word and PDF format, can be downloaded here.

Cover Letter in PDF format

Detailed Comments in PDF format

Detailed Comments in Word format

If you have comments on these comments, please contact me at charlesc at



FOA ANWR Comments

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

We have sent our comments to the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment. We hope that you took the time to read the document and provide your input. June 24, 2011 is the deadline to get comments in.

As a group concerned about communication and cooperation, our comments fell into two categories.

1) We continue to voice our ongoing concern over the loss of the distinction between the Atchafalaya Basin, which extends from the Teche ridge to Bayou Manchac – because of its historic origins as one of the tentacles of the Mississippi River, before constructed levees were built – and the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System, defined by the flood protection levees built by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Floodway construction greatly affected and its operation continues to affect the areas outside the levees and that distinction should not be lost.

2) The lack of mention of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area as a player in the visitor services and public information aspects of the Refuge operations strikes us as a huge oversight and we requested a dialog between the two organizations, both overseen by the US Department of the Interior, and additions to the CCP to acknowledge the role of the Heritage Area in the entire Basin area.

Please let us know what you think about the Refuge plans and how you think they might be modified to improve the habitat and wildlife management in the Floodway.


Basin Program Plan Moves On

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

With the completion of the last of three public meetings around the Basin, this one in Morgan City on November 24, the Atchafalaya Basin Program staff moves into the next phase of preparation of the 2011 Annual Plan for the Program. The Draft Plan will be brought back to the Research and Promotion Board, the governing body of the Program, with a summary of comments and copies of the comment cards collected at the three public meetings. The Board will decide which comments to incorporate into the Plan before it goes to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for final review prior to Legislative action. The Board will accept the comments and Staff recommendations based on those comments at a special December 2, 2009 public meeting at 9:30 AM at the LaSalle Building in downtown Baton Rouge (617 N. 3rd Street). The meeting will be held in the LaBelle Room on the 1st Floor.

The Meetings

The three meetings were different in character, with different interests expressed by the participants. Each meeting drew between 10 and 20 attendees from the public, organizations and public agencies, including local representatives of each hosting parish. At all three meetings, Glenn Constant of US Fish and Wildlife represented the Technical Advisory Group and used early versions of the Basin Total Inventory and Assessment Tools to demonstrated the process used by the TAG to evaluate and select projects for recommendation in the Draft 2011 Plan. There was widespread support for the new process, which allows the TAG to evaluate projects based on a better understanding of the past and current conditions in the Basin, and to present conclusions along with the information that supported their decisions.

In Plaquemine, participants were interested in the East Grand Lake/Flat Lake Water Management Unit Projects, which comprise most of the water projects in the 2011 plan. They liked the idea of opening some of the silted waterways but were worried about the effect of sediment getting deeper into the swamp. This is recurring theme in the Basin and the attention to managing sediment by the TAG and the Basin Program Staff draws support from most attendees. Folks at the Plaquemine meeting were also interested in the Bayou Sorrell Boat Landing project. But concern was voiced about work needed in the area north of Upper Grand River. The Brown Bayou Project is proposed in that area, but there is still concern about needing more water coming down from the Nouth.

In Henderson, crawfishermen and environmentalists turned out to offer some support for the new process, but also to question the results of past work in Buffalo Cove and to reitterrate their calls for better boundary markings and more State activity in identifying State land incorrectly claimed by private parties. The strongest comments from the west side continue to support projects which reintroduce traditional water flow patterns by opening historic waterways and filling artificial east-west canals with spoil from the artificially high banks created by the dredging of those canals.

In Morgan City, where the water is more plentiful, if not always healthy, there was more concern about completing recreation projects defined in the State Master Plan  and reinforced in legislation and annual planning processes, before the recent changes in funding allocation caused by Act 606 of the 2008 Legislature.  You can read more about the current process and the effects of Act 606 in the Draft Plan.

The public meetings were productive and participation was good. The Basin Program, the TAG and the oversight committees are to be commended for their commitments to the transparency promoted by Act 606, for patience in addressing many public concerns, and for persistence in getting the Draft Plan through a tight schedule. This year’s plan is better than last year’s and there are reasons for optimism that improvements will continue to come, in the analysis tools, the selection process, and finally, in the work in the Basin to produce improvements in the habitat for plants, animals and people.

Public Participation

Continued participation by many interested parties will be required. As we move into the construction phase of approved projects, we will need to support the Basin Program in it’s work to maintain the concept of transparent operation through the monitoring and evaluation stages. The idea of “adaptive management“, or modifying our actions as results show positive or negative impacts, when compared to our original objectives, will require public review of those results and input from those who proposed the original actions. We must learn as we go and each project needs followup into the future. There is no “completion” of projects which modify the processes in the Basin, only more monitoring of effects, and continual maintenance of the system. Now that we have accepted responsibility for managing the once-natural environment, we need to continue to get better at reading the trends and modifying the results.

Public Policy

Finally, there will be no significant changes in the function of the Basin hydrology or the health of the swamps until we, as a nation, decide that the health of the ecosystems in the Floodway are at least as important as the functioning of the system for flood control and transportation. The Corps has been directed by the Congress in the Water Resources and Development Act of 2007 (Section 7002) to “develop a comprehensive plan for protecting, preserving, and restoring the coastal Louisiana ecosystem”, building “the framework of a long-term program integrated with hurricane and storm damage reduction, flood damage reduction, and navigation activities that provide for the comprehensive protection, conservation, and restoration of the wetlands, estuaries, barrier islands, shorelines, and related land and features of the coastal Louisiana ecosystem, including protection of critical resources, habitat, and infrastructure from the effects of a coastal storm, a hurricane, erosion, or subsidence;”. The Plan is to specifically consider “the maximum effective use of the water and sediment of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers for coastal restoration purposes consistent with flood control and navigation;” and “an investigation and assessment of alterations in the operation of the Old River Control Structure, consistent with flood control and navigation purposes;”. The intent of the legislation is obviously focused on Coastal Restoration and increasing recognition is being given to the importance of considering the Atchafalaya Basin as part of the coastal area management equation.

It is imperative that we participate in the development of the plan and subsequent decisions concerning the Basin and the coast. Survival of the Basin as a distinct environment will depend on a comprehensive plan that accommodates not just flood control and transportation and not just the area below the intracoastal waterway, but the health of the Floodway, as well.

Stay tuned here for more developments, get out to the meetings, and ask the hard questions.


More than a Spillway…

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

This is the beginning of a discussion about the Basin and its future. Please feel free to comment if you like.
These thoughts are mine and may not reflect those of the FOA Board or membership.

After watching and participating in Basin activities for more than a decade now, i have started to realize some basic concepts that are occasionally mentioned but which most folks apparently don’t appreciate as significant.

We steadfastly charge forward to improve the hydrology of the Atchafalaya Basin, trying to improve the water quality in vast areas of isolated swamps, but we seem to ignore why the swamps are isolated and what it will take to fix them.

It wasn’t always like this.

Back before any levees were built by humans, nature built her own, but they were low ones, gradually built by depositing layer after layer of sediment just behind the higher banks of the rivers and streams. Water, over-topping the natural levees, tended to spread out and slow down, so it dropped the larger grains behind the existing levees and extended them away from the channel. The higher the water level, the greater the amount of sediment that was laid down. Eventually, the higher ground tended to resist the over-topping and water broke through weaker spots in the banks to change the route of the channel. This process went on for thousands of years, building the Mississippi/Atchafalaya delta and many others around the world. Overlaid on this process was the rise and fall of sea level as the earth warmed and cooled for various reasons.

As migrating Europeans started to build communities along the rivers, pressure became stronger to minimize the disruption of the periodic floods caused by the rise of the channels draining a large part of the continent and higher levees were built, until the Mississippi was converted into one long, mostly-constrained, channel draining much of North America into the Gulf of Mexico. Occasionally, though, the levees could not contain the huge drainage flow and the resulting floods were higher than earlier ones because the channel was kept artificially high inside its new channel, rather than being allowed to spread across a wider area.

None of this is new to most of us, nor is the process than led to the creation of the Atchafalaya, West Atchafalaya and Morganza Floodways, the creation and expansion of the Old River Control Structures, or the modifications of the main channel of the Atchafalaya River into a deep, wide, fast moving, efficient carrier of water to the Gulf. In telling the story, we often mention that the Corps of Engineers was directed to place a high priority on flood control and transportation, ultimately to the detriment of the swampy areas. We also discuss the construction of logging and petroleum access canals across the Basin and point out that many of them contributed to the blockage of natural north-to-south flow of water in the swamp. Then we start talking about what small changes we can make to some of the blockages in order to restore health to the swamp.

What we don’t talk about is the fact that the biggest impact to water flowing in the swamp is not the blockages of small channels, it is the opening of the largest one. And we don’t point out that the biggest causes of the problems in the swamps are still recognized as the highest priorities of the Corps of Engineers, the organization that is charged with the responsibility of managing the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System. Let this soak in: the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System is, 1) first and foremost, a conduit for water from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico; and 2) a path for the transport of goods and services between southern and northern ports. The fact that the “Basin” is available as a quasi-natural habitat for plants and animals and a recreational area for people, is a result of the decision to maintain the area undeveloped so that its flood carrying capacity is not diminished by obstructions or by economic pressures not to flood industry or communities in the area.

Whether you agree with the priorities in place, or not, it is important to understand the effects of them on the health of the ecosystem.

It is my opinion that the restriction of water to the main channel[s], either actively, by closing off most outlets from the main path down the middle of the Floodway, or passively, by deepening and widening the largest channel so that the resistance to flow into the swamps is greater than the resistance to direct flow to the Gulf, is the biggest cause of poor water quality in the remaining swamps.

In order to improve the flow of water into the areas that need it for forest and wildlife health, we must first decide that the health of the ecosystem is at least on the priority scale with flood control and transportation, and then figure out how to manage the flow down the main channel during different water conditions to allow all three needs to be met more equitably.

In other words, we need to control the balance of the flow down the main channel and into the swamp, whenever flood control is not a big issue, so that we can conserve the resources that we have decided are important in the swamps.

In short, we need to make a conscious decision that the Atchafalaya Basin will not be just a Spillway.

The time for this discussion is way overdue, but the recent directive to the Corps to re-visit the management of the Old River Control Structure and to make recommendations for the distribution of flow between the Rivers make this a good time to lay it all on the table and to discuss the social value of the Flood Control function, the strategic and commercial values of the transportation activity on the Atchafalaya River, and the environmental and social values of the natural resources inside and adjacent to the levees.

Let’s talk.

Charles Caillouet,

What Is Needed To Save The Basin?

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Several stories have surfaced in the past few days, making reference to a report by a couple of LSU researchers on the lack of sediment in the Mississippi River since hundreds of dams were installed along the Mississippi River watershed.

Here are links to articles about the report:

Picayune article

Advocate article


One of our own… Willie Fontenot

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Some of you know Willie Fontenot, one of our FOA Board members. Willie worked in State Government for many years as a citizen’s advocate, giving a voice to many small groups who were generally overlooked by the “system”.