Atchafalaya water quality study to start in St. Mary Parish

A $100,000 grant obtained by an LSU AgCenter researcher should help determine the effectiveness of water management construction projects and their effects on the Atchafalaya floodway system.

The “Dog Leg,” located between the Atchafalaya River and East Grand Lake in the Attakapas Wildlife Management Area, will be the first project examined.

Final approval of the grant from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources is expected soon to help collect and interpret data from this and three other such projects over a three-year period, according to LSU AgCenter assistant professor Michael Kaller.

Successful projects increase dissolved oxygen in the waterways to enhance the sustainability of fisheries in the system. This leads to improved crawfish harvests and fish populations, along with more efficient navigation because of increased water depths through moving sediment from the soft bottom of the Atchafalaya system, according to a LSU AgCenter news release.

Increasing the water flow through the system with water management tackles two issues according to a news release from the AgCenter. The system becomes healthier and more navigation-friendly by moving sediment and increasing depth, in turn that relocated sediment is moved to the coast where it is needed for sustained coastlines and habitats.

The effectiveness of projects is determined by researching water samples taken from test sites located in project areas. This is what the grant will help accomplish at the Dog Leg and the three other locations, the news release stated.

Kaller says he has no preconceived ideas on what the data will show as to the effectiveness of these projects. He said each area of the Atchafalaya system can vary greatly, depending on its use and the impact of flooding. Thus, what works in one area may not work in another.

“We would like to see evidence that the projects lead to an increase in dissolved oxygen and an improvement in the health and amount of crawfish and fish in the area,” Kaller said.

Kaller said an overall goal in managing the system should be to keep it from filling in and maintaining the three habitat zones of the system; full flood (wet) areas, flowing channels and bayous, and swamp areas that experience wet and dry cycles.

The results of the study funded by the grant will be shared with the DNR and the Atchafalaya Basin Program, according to Kaller, and will be incorporated into academic publications.

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