Removal of dam on Bayou St. John will restore flow of water from Lake Pontchartrain
“This dam is a clog in the artery of Bayou St. John.” — Mark Schexnayder, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries
A team of construction workers used a diamond-embedded sawblade Wednesday morning to begin cutting through the concrete top of a dam on Bayou St. John at Robert E. Lee Drive in New Orleans that blocks the flow of water from Lake Pontchartrain. The removal effort, which began two weeks ago, will take at least another month, said Justin Boyce, a supervisor with Anders Construction.
The dam removal will allow water to flow freely from the lake to the southern end of the bayou for the first time in about 50 years, and allow the area south of the dam to be repopulated with a variety of fish species — including speckled trout — and submerged aquatic vegetation, said Mark Schexnayder, deputy assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
The removal of the dam will allow the Orleans Levee District to vary water flow from the lake to the bayou by strategic openings of a flood protection gate at the bayou’s mouth, which will reduce salinity levels in both the bayou and the City Park lagoon system, which receives water from the bayou, Schexnayder said.
The $234,000 project is partly financed with a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hydro-restoration grant program, aimed at removing outdated dams and restoring historic water flows in coastal areas. The grant, administered by the Louisiana State University Sea Grant program, was matched by funds from the Orleans Levee District, which is acting as local sponsor for the project.
The Orleans Levee District also will pay to dredge a 400-yard-long path from the lake into the bayou, where its mouth has shoaled in, said district executive director Gerry Gillen.
Requests to remove the dam date to the early 1980s, when local community groups banded together to oppose a larger dam structure at the bayou’s mouth. But the requests didn’t gain stream until the Army Corps of Engineers was reviewing whether to upgrade the pre-Katrina gate structure at the bayou’s mouth as part of efforts to improve the levee system.
That’s when the St. John Bayou Conservation Alliance was formed by members of a dozen New Orleans neighborhood groups. Representatives of the alliance and the various agencies involved in removing the dam, including New Orleans District A City Councilwoman Susan Guidry, met at the dam site Wednesday morning to formally kick off its removal.
Bayou St. John was a key reason why New Orleans was colonized by French explorers in the early 1700s. Native Indians told the explorers that the waterway stretched from the lake to an area close to the river, and that with a minor portage over the Metairie Ridge, it would provide a faster route from the Gulf of Mexico to what would become their new colony.
Small ships and boats could enter the lake from Lake Borgne and Mississippi Sound through the Rigolets and Chef Menteur passes, avoiding the often shoaled-in mouth of the Mississippi River and the river’s strong currents.
Over the years, settlers used the bayou as a way to get seafood from the lake and the Gulf to markets in the French Quarter, eventually building the now filled-in Basin Canal to connect the bayou with the Quarter.
For years, the small dam at the bayou’s mouth was the only barrier to hurricane storm surges. But that changed in the 1980s, when a gate structure was built near the bayou’s mouth.
The dam contains three valves that allow water to flow south, but only one valve could be fully opened, limiting the ability of fish and other organisms from moving farther into the bayou, Schexnayder said.
The University of New Orleans and Wildlife & Fisheries installed several monitoring devices in the bayou and the City Park lagoons to collect information about water quality with the dam in place. With the dam removed, the monitor network will be used to determine the best conditions to entice additional fisheries and plant life into the bayou.
That data will be used to determine when the gates will be opened, Gillen said. They’re likely to be closed throughout the hurricane season and to block high water levels caused by strong winter cold fronts. But the water flow changes are likely to restore some long-lost species to the southern parts of the bayou, said Schexnayder and Rusty Gaude, a fisheries scientist with Sea Grant.
“I was standing on the dam that’s being moved recently, and there was a garfish in the water that was bigger than the girl that was interviewing me, at least 5 1/2 feet tall and as big around as a watermelon,” Gaude said. Schexnayder said a dead Gulf sturgeon, listed as an endangered species, also was spotted in the area between the dam and the lake this week.
Both of those species could find their ways into the southern end of Bayou St. John, in the central part of the city, and Schexnayder said they even could be joined on rare occasions by manatee or dolphins. “The state record sheepshead was caught in Bayou St. John” before the dam was built, Schexnayder said. “This dam is a clog in the artery of Bayou St. John.”
photo at left by Albert “RUSTY” Gaude’, Fishery Extension Agent with the LSU AgCenter/ LA Sea Grant Program
After years of effort on the part of many members of our community, the outdated Bayou St. John water control structure, or as some have called it the “waterfall dam”, at Robert E. Lee and the bayou, is being demolished.
The move to demolish the structure coalesced in December 2008 as neighborhood leaders called on the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work with the Orleans Levee District to provide a sector gate in good working order and to remove the dam.
Please join Councilmember Susan Guidry and other concerned residents for an opportunity to celebrate the results of the hard work and persistence of everyone who has worked to have the dam removed. We will be gathering at the site on Robert E. Lee and the bayou on Wednesday, December 12, at 9 a.m. to cheer the demolition and take some celebratory photos! Rescheduled to Wednesday, December 12 at 9 a.m.
Information and photo above sent by: Sherri K. Wilder | Community Liaison | firstname.lastname@example.org
Councilmember Susan G. Guidry – District A | www.nolacitycouncil.com
City Hall | 1300 Perdido Street | New Orleans, Louisiana 70112
Office: (504) 658-1012 | Fax: (504) 658-1016
December 5, 2012 UPDATE: REMOVAL WORK HAS BEGUN!
Information below previously posted at FSJNAdotORG on August 16, 2012
Currently, the unanticipated Scenic Rivers permit process is being worked.
The $234,000 project will be executed by the Orleans Levee District, and is partially funded by the Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant program. The funding came from NOAA hydro-restoration grants.
ABC 26 News did a story on this project in April, 2012.
The project is currently estimated to be completed by January, 2013.
Bayou St. John – Removal of the Obsolete Flood Control Structure at Lake Pontchartrain
Start Date: 01/01/12
Duration: 2 years
Project Leader: Gillen, Gerard J.
Affiliation: Orleans Levee District
Sea Grant Funds: $94,000
Matching Funds: $103,330
1 – To attain permits for removal of old flood control structure.
2 – To remove old flood control structure hindering water flow into Bayou St. John.
3 – To schedule and implement openings of the new flood gate at Lake Pontchartrain.
4 – To monitor the increased recruitment of larval and juvenile estuarine fish, crabs and mussels.
5 – To monitor the improved water quality in Bayou St. John and City Park lagoons and waterways.
6 – To increase use of the Bayou by recreational groups.
The Orleans Levee District (OLD) has authority over the flood control structures located in Bayou St. John, New Orleans, Louisiana. One of the structures, built in 1962, is outdated and has been replaced by a more modern flood gate. The OLD plans to remove the old flood control structure located at Robert E. Lee Blvd and Bayou St. John. Burt-Kleinpeter, Inc. researched the hydrology of the area and has made recommendations on removing the structure. Permits will be attained from the Corps of Engineers, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. The RFP will be advertised and awarded to a contractor. The contractor will remove the old flood control structure. Monitoring of the Bayou will continue by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and other organizations.
Bayou St. John was once a natural tributary of Lake Pontchartrain, navigable from the Lake into the heart of the city of New Orleans. It was used as the main transportation waterway of goods into the city. Currently, the two flood control structures on the bayou inhibit both navigation and the natural water flow. The older structure, built in 1962, is composed of a cement bulkhead that incorporates a drain and butterfly valves to allow some water flow. The butterfly valves, meant to remain open, are mostly non-functional, with one valve open and others closed or mostly closed. The new flood gates, meant to replace the older structure, are located approximately 0.25 miles toward the lake from the old structure; these gates have opening and closing capability, which the operation of could increase water and fish access into the bayou. It also has navigation gates that can be opened when water levels allow, but are not presently used.
The new flood gate provides flood protection to the city of New Orleans. The old control structure only inhibits the exchange of biota and water from the lake.
The Coastal Use Permits for the dredging and demolition projects are almost approved. The public notices for the dredging and demolition projects have been advertised.
Questions? Please contact:
Albert “RUSTY” Gaude’
Area Fishery Extension Agent
Jefferson, Orleans, St. Charles, St. James Parishes
LSU AgCenter/ Louisiana Sea Grant Program
Yenni Building/ Ste. 300
1221 Elmwood Park Blvd. Jefferson, LA 70123
Office 504-736-6519 Fax 504-736-6527
Sea Grant Funds Project to Demolish Outdated Bayou St. John Water Control Structure
Bayou St. John - In an effort to improve water flow and recreational fisheries along Bayou St. John, the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) Sea Grant programs through a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Restoration Center are funding the removal of a non-functional water control structure on the bayou. The $234,000 project will be executed by the Orleans Levee District (OLD), and the NOAA Restoration Center/GOM Sea Grant partnership is contributing $95,000 toward the cost.
A recent study concluded the old water control structure is unnecessary. The cement structure, built in 1962, was originally designed with open butterfly valves to control water flow from Lake Pontchartrain. But years of valve maintenance problems rendered the control structure superfluous. In 1992, additional floodgates were built to replace the old structure.
“Because the new, much higher sector gate structure is the primary protection for storm surge entering the bayou, the original purpose of the 1962 structure to protect against storm surge is no longer necessary,” said Gerard Gillen, OLD executive director.
The primary benefit of removing the old control structure will be to restore historic hydrologic flow into the bayou, allowing for the re-establishment of Bayou St. John’s aquatic vegetation and the growth of native marine life. Officials also hope that the revitalized bayou will attract more recreational activity along the City Park lagoons that feed off the bayou.
“This is an excellent opportunity to improve access to Bayou St. John for fish and for the human residents of the surrounding communities,” said Mel Landry, a NOAA marine habitat resource specialist located in Baton Rouge.
Article in the Times Picayune:
Comments below from Conrad Abadie (March 1, 2014):
Bayou St John is one of the most historic small fingered extension of any river of the world. It no doubt depended on the free flood of tides from the Lake Pontchartrain and the seasonal over-flow of the detached river for much of recorded history. With the founding of New Orleans, the necessary protection of the village/city soon cut it off from the lifeblood of the river. Much later, it was cut off from the tidal nourishment of the lake. When the latter cutoff was proposed to be permanent with the building of a permanent levee at the mouth of the bayou and the lake along Robert E. Lee Blvd, some brave souls challenged the federal government and won a monumental court battle in 1982 (click here for the ruling). We have the Bayou St. John Improvement Association and its former members Ray Boudreaux, the late Bill Faust and Bill Furlong, among many others, I am sure, to thank in preventing the permanent barrier from being constructed. James Derbes, of Bayou Road, was one of the attorneys of record.
Unfortunately, a key requirement of that ruling, the demolition of the earlier constructed waterfall barrier was ignored by the losing parties, until this past year when it was demolished. We have the Bayou St. John Improvement Association and its former members Ray Boudreaux, Phil Shall, the late Bill Faust and Bill Furlong, among many others. I met Ray Boudreaux and Phil Shall there for the ceremonial demolition. Ray Boudreaux now has one of the lava rocks from that monstrosity in his yard.
How did that come to finally happen is the next chapter of the effort to open the bayou.
What happened after Katrina, was another effort, led initially by one man, Mr. Robert Counce of the Bancroft Neighborhood Association. He then lived on Park Island and dreamed of the opening of the lake once more to the bayou. I was contacted by Robert as a contact for the Faubourg St John Association. Mike Pearce, who was the president of FSJNA and Susan Guidry, who was then president of the Parkview Association, soon joined in. And, Mark Shexnayder of the L.S.U. Ag Center was a fantastic resource for our endeavor. Before long, we had formed the Bayou St John Conservation Association (click here for the resolution). But, before then, it was the efforts of a few individuals who challenged the status quo that led to the “Coalition” that achieved the goal of the 1982 court ruling and we now see speckled trout being caught in the bayou again!
Phil Shall of Moss Street was there with Mr. Boudreaux and I for the ceremonial demolition. Phil Shall was also very instrumental in the long struggle to prevent the construction of the permanent levee barrier at the mouth of Bayou St John and continued the fight with us to get the waterfall removed, as did Bill Furlong.
In fact, Phil remembers catching trout and redfish in Bayou St John as a youngster and young man. He lives on Moss Street to this day!
Now to the present, I see Musa and Veda as the present day Robert Counce. They have a desire to protect the banks of the bayou, the logical next step. I have been asked for my advice in the past, and I confess I have freely given it. My hope now is, that their and others’ initial steps will lead to a broad consensus for the use and enhancement of the precious Bayou St John. I am confident that they are open to that prospect.
Kevin DeRamus caught a 14-inch speckled trout Saturday in Bayou St. John, and his son Jacob followed that up with a 16-incher of his own. (Kevin DeRamus)
Todd Masson, NOLA.com | February 27, 2014
There’s only one thing Kevin DeRamus’ son Jacob hates about City Park — it’s too far from his River Ridge home.
Jacob, a 15-year-old Jesuit High School freshman, will settle for fishing the Soniat Canal closer to his house, but any free moment he’s got, he’s pestering his dad to take him to City Park.
So it’s probably not a shock that the DeRamuses were among the first to accomplish what may soon become commonplace on Bayou St. John just next to the park. On Saturday, they each caught a speckled trout.
“Jacob fishes City Park a lot,” Kevin DeRamus said. “That’s his favorite place to go, but every now and then, we’ll take the kayaks out to Bayou St. John. We just went out there (Saturday) to see what we could catch, and we ended up with a surprise. We were very shocked.”
The day started fairly well, with the anglers hooking half a dozen bass in the lagoons before making the jump to the bayou. Once there, though, the fishing got a little slow. They were hoping for bass and maybe a redfish or two, but nothing was cooperating.
“We had put in by Harrison (Avenue), and decided we were going to go down by the Greek church,” Kevin DeRamus said. “Right around Filmore, I decided I was going to cast behind the kayak and kind of troll.
“All of a sudden, my line went taut. I told Jacob, ‘Hold up! I got something!’ So I reeled it in, and it was a 14-inch speck.”
The fish hit a junebug-colored soft-plastic.
The anglers continued along, casting and trolling on their route up the bayou, and continued to strike out. The hotspot by the Greek church didn’t produce, so they turned around. Jacob trolled the same color lure his dad used, and in almost the same spot, caught a 16-inch speck.
Kevin DeRamus said he’s never heard of anyone catching a speckled trout in Bayou St. John. His experience likely won’t be the last, however, thanks to a multi-year effort to improve water flow from Lake Pontchartrain into Bayou St. John.
“Jacob was really excited,” he said. “He just couldn’t believe it.”