Saltwater Intrusion a Problem for Vermilion, La., Rice, Cattle

March 27, 2007

Saltwater intrusion is hindering rice production and cutting into available pasture land for cattle in Vermilion Parish but parish officials say state aid has been obtained to repair levee leaks blamed for the problem.

County Agent Howard Cormier recently reported a 40 percent decrease in the value of the rice crop and that only 50,000 acres of the normal 85,000 acres have been planted. That is a $14.6 million economic loss to the parish.

And farmer Sherrill Sagrera has told officials that about 5,000 head of cattle and 1,000 horses have been lost because of the problems mostly in the coastal zone. Compounding the problem is the reality that most ranchers do not have the deep freshwater wells needed to alleviate the intrusion.

Sagrera said another 5,000 head of cattle had to be sold because of pasture losses and lack of fresh water.

Saltwater intrusion is a problem south of Intracoastal City, west of the Lehman Bohman Lock Control Structure.

“That part of the levee (west of Intracoastal City) is washing out and the whole system is full of leaks,” Sagrera said. “The two biggest leaks, a 30-foot and a 20-foot hole, are the most critical. They are letting huge amounts of saltwater into the freshwater Mermentau Basin in Schooner Bayou and the rice farmers are refusing to plant as a result.”

After Hurricane Rita, many rice growers refused to invest in a crop, forcing police jurors and members of the Vermilion Parish Coastal Restoration Advisory Committee into action.

On March 5, the Vermilion Parish Police Jury declared a state of emergency, a step in getting state help. Police Juror Wayne Touchet said state aid has been arranged with support from Gov. Kathleen Blanco and repairs should begin within the next 30 days.

Now that $1 million is on the way and that work should begin quickly, Touchet said he hopes it will restore the faith of local farmers in their local and state governments.

“We have had the complete support of the governor,” he said. “We were in Baton Rouge on Tuesday, and we got a call Wednesday the permits to repair the levee were ready. The emergency provision had the desired effect and Mrs. Blanco is making it happen.”

Information from: The Advocate,

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