Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Louisiana Swamp Tours, Crawfish, and the Mississippi River Flood Of 2011

Although the media paints a gloomy forecast for south Louisiana regarding the pending floodwaters due to crest here in about a week or two, I am here to tell you "the rest of the story".

Because of levees that now "protect" the delta from flooding, we are losing 30-50 square miles of marshland in coastal Louisiana every year, due to salt water intrusion. And salt water intrusion is the result of not enough Mississippi River floodwater being distributed across the vast plain of the delta, to dilute and push back the saltwater of the Gulf of Mexico.

For milliniums, Mississippi River floodwaters distributed silt across the vast plain of the delta, and slowly the land we stand on today in south Louisiana evolved into the richest pantry of wild foods in North America. Then in the twentieth century, we decided to stop the natural flooding of the delta every year during springtime snowmelt, and we built huge levees to accomplish that.

That same land today, is no longer allowed to flood in order to successfully cultivate cash crops year after year, such as sugar cane, cotton, wheat, milo, corn and rice. Never is the floodwaters allowed to nourish the delta west of the spillway. The management of containment flood control currently ignores, and overlooks the ecological devastation of the coastal prairies, swamp, marshland, and barrier islands due to present flood control policies interference of natural floodwater distribution in the Mississippi River Delta.

Now, I am not against flood control or levees, I am opposed to the ultimate goal of containing floods, rather than a controlled distribution. We need the levees for containment during floods like what is coming now, and in addition to that, we need spillway outlets on the west protection levee feeding the major bayous and allowing them to what they have done for milleniums: distribute floodwaters . The irony of an annual floodwater distribution is we would not only have better flood protection during major floods which are rare, we would also be effectively fighting coastal erosion year round, year after year. And that is the battle we are currently losing.

A purple sunrise courtesy of Claude Nall

The geography of south Louisiana is flat, and often hard to determine where land ends and water begins, and vice versa.

The Bonnet Carey Spillway being opened on May 9, 2011

For your information, Lake Martin, where I launch my swamp tours, is not in the Morganza spillway that is about to flood. There are people living in there who will be homless in about a week or two, and we will need to shelter and feed some of these folks for a while. They are living in my opinion, on the wrong side of the levee. I have several friends who are in the process of relocating now.

The point I want to make here is: my swamp tours are NOT in harms way. Lake Martin and the Cypress Island Swamp are "protected" by flood control levees and de la Houssaye's Swamp Tours is still in business, and will not be adversely affected by the flood water rising to the east in the Atchafalaya Spillway. The cities of Opelousas, Lafayette, New Iberia, Franklin and Morgan City are well protected. Although Morgan City is most likely sweating butter beans about now.

After 25 years of doing my Louisiana swamp tours, I have been able to share the things about the Louisiana wetlands that I love with many people who truly appreciated them.

Prothonatary Warbler courtesy of Randy Mehoves

Interesting to note, that becoming a tour guide and operating de la Houssaye's Swamp Tours,

Your swamp tour guide circa 1989,
photo courtesy of Marc Garanger

has caused me to learn a great deal more about the wilderness wetlands that I have been a part of all my life, than I would have known, if I were not a tour guide.

Because I lived on a houseboat in the Atchafalaya Basin Swamp for 10 years,

and at the same time was doing educational swamp tours in the Atchafalaya spillway, I studied the hydralogy of the swamp basin present and past. That experience and the knowledge gained has enabled me to understand and oversee an extremely complicated flood control system, which is as an engineering feat, impressive, but operates contrary to nature.

The natural means of water management in the Mississippi River Delta is distribution through bayous and "allow" floodwaters to spread out over 200 miles of floodplain. The Corp of Engineers plan of managing big floods is containment in a 20 mile wide corridor called The Atchafalaya Basin Spillway. The sole purpose of containing floods in the spillway is to protect the other 80% of the floodplain outside the spillway.

Roughly a million acres in size. The entire spillway will flood this month and all minor spillways in the Atchafalaya basin spillway complex will be opened to allow a controlled distribution. The purpose of opening spillways and allowing a greater distribution is to prevent the floodwaters from going "over" the levee and washing it away. That would be our worst nightmare, and unlikely to happen this month, for the simple fact that we are experiencing a drought.

The problem with the current flood control system is that there is not enough distribution outlets to be really effective in major floods like what is bearing down upon us this month. The mindset of the Corp of Engineers has always been an unnatural goal of containment, rather than a natural gravitational distribution of flood waters, which is what nature would be doing if we were doing nothing.

So... if you are thinking of coming to Cajun Country and are worried that we are or will be under water soon, I want you to know that I have faith that the levee protection system we have in place here in south Louisiana, will protect us and deal with this present flood. My ever present concern is for the environmental impact of preventing distribution year after year, even when we have no major flood, and as a result suffer coastal erosion.

Please do not assume the failed levee system in New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina is representative of our levee system here in Cajun Country.

I do believe we can handle this flood with the levee protection system we have in place, and we could have more flood protection if we "allowed" a larger controlled distribution because we would be able to handle an even worse flood than what is coming this month. And, on that note, may I say, this years flood is not even close, in my opinion, to becoming our worst nightmare.

So...here is the rest of the story:

The positve side of this flood is crawfish!

Lots of crawfish...

And...the best crawfish are deepwater crawfish, and my point being we have not had a good season like this in a long time, y'all come get ya some!

So if the positve side of this flood is crawfish, don't feel sorry for us,

we are here in our backyards boiling crawfish and having a good time!

And if you are just passing through, and don't have an invitation to someone's backyard,

The Tiger Palace at Doucet and Rees Street in Breaux Bridge has all you can eat buffet including boiled crawfish.

My favorite is the coconut shrimp. Just trust me on this one! Shrimp baked in coconut milk and sprikled with shredded coconut.

A great Chinese buffet...

A super salad and fruit bar,

and all you can eat crawfish with corn and potatoes!

Why would you want to eat anywhere else?

Well, if you wanted to sit and eat under the trees at a picnic table in the open air.

And so... one more reference for boiled crawfish in Breaux Bridge is Foti's Market and Cafe.

In Breaux Bridge, at the intersection of La.Hwy.31 and La.Hwy.94

Also known as The Fruit Stand

You can get boiled crab, shrimp and crawfish to go or sit and eat in the cafe.

Now you could get your crawfish to go and find a picnic table at the parc and sit under the trees like we do in our backyard or better yet just a half block from the The Fruit Stand is the Bayou Cabins on Hwy 94 at the Bayou Teche.

Come on in, grab yo self a chair and make yo self at home!

Watch the squirrels play, and relax. Doesn't matter if they are closed,
the Bayou Boudin and Cracklin Company and Bayou Cabins,

is a good place to set a spell, hang out and meet and get to know some folks.
And they don't care if you bought your crawfish next door, and came to eat here.

Go ahead and grab a picnic table, and enjoy the shade, there is plenty of parking,

a real friendly atmosphere,

and a playground for the kids.

So if they were closed, when you came by and you couldn't spend any money on the world's best boudin, know that you are welcome, just relax, get a feel for the place, and you might come back another time, spend a few days in a cabin, and have Rocky and Lisa cook breakfast for you in the morning. It is that kind of place where people care more about people than money.