Sportsmen urge Avoyelles Police Jury to restrict pumping from Spring Bayou

If you thought the “Battle of Spring Bayou” was over, you were just enjoying a ceasefire.

Jim Landry, representing the Spring Bayou Restoration Team, urged the Avoyelles Police Jury to take immediate action to prevent agricultural landowners adjacent to Spring Bayou from pumping water out of the complex.

“The water is below 41 feet,” Landry said. “The dam is 41 feet high and the water is not flowing over the dam. It is at the point of being critical.”

Landry addressed the jury’s agenda-setting meeting on June 7. Spring Bayou resident Dave Evans brought the issue up again at the jury’s regular meeting on June 12.

In his comments, Landry reminded jurors of LDWF officials’ comments earlier this year that they are not concerned with the effect low water has on recreational boating because their responsibility is to protect fish and wildlife. “If they are waiting for a fish kill, it won’t be long at this rate,” Landry said.

“I encourage the Police Jury to step out and do the right thing,” he continued. “Create a commission.” Evans told jurors at the June 12 meeting that the water is dangerously low and there have been reports of fish dying in some areas.

Bill Jupp, another SBRT member, said Spring Bayou is about more than just fish and wildlife.

“If someone just wants to kayak at Spring Bayou, they should have just as much right to do that,” Jupp said, noting that the activity has nothing to do with the welfare of the fish.

Jupp said low water levels makes some areas impassable or unattractive for kayak and canoe enthusiasts.

Landry said there are areas of the lake now where fishing boats are striking mud, “and it will only get worse if we have the kind of summer they are saying we will.”

Terry Laborde, with the Avoyelles Wildlife Federation, also spoke to jurors in favor of pressing the state to allow the jury to create a commission that would monitor and regulate the pumping of water out of the Spring Bayou Complex.

Police Jury President Charles Jones said he has been in contact with LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet several times since the Feb. 14 meeting at which the proposed commission was initially discussed.

NEXT MEETING JULY 11

There was supposed to be a follow-up meeting in June, but Montoucet said the financial situation in Baton Rouge forced him to postpone the meeting to July.

Jones said the Police Jury committee studying the creation of a Spring Bayou Commission will meet with Montoucet and other state officials on the topic at 10 a.m. on July 11 in the LDWF headquarters in Baton Rouge.

“I had hoped this would be resolved before summer,” Jones said.

Jones said state officials were very clear that they didn’t want to hear about the effects on recreational boating.

“They only wanted to talk about fish kills -- that there have been no fish kills,” Jones said. “I told them that it seems to me it is a little too late to address a situation after there’s a fish kill.”

Landry agreed, saying, “you need to stop it before that happens.”

Juror Mark Borrel said LDWF officials told jurors in February that the parish could create a commission to monitor and regulate the water level, “but they said we better have a lot of lawyers and a lot of money, because it would end up in court.”

BALANCE OF RIGHTS

Landry said an attorney general’s opinion stating the Police Jury can create the commission also cited state laws concerning property owners right to pump water from the waterway.

He said his interpretation of that opinion indicates there is a balance of rights involved, with the property owners having the right to pump the water for agricultural use as long as they do not interfere with other users’ rights.

“If I can’t get my boat into the lake because of the mud, then they are interfering with my rights,” he said.

Landry said that law also specifies that landowners can “use the water, but then must return it to the source. I don’t believe that is being done. I suspect the landowners are pumping and storing that water.”

The opinion noted state law gives adjacent property owners the right to withdraw water for “agriculture, aquaculture and for other customary purposes. However, this right is subject to limitations in times of scarcity.”

It also said the landowner “may not exhaust the supply of water, make the water unsuitable for the use of the public or other riparian owners, obstruct the flow or take such quantities of water that other riparian owners are likely to sustain damage. If he does, he is answerable to damages and injunction.”

The opinion also stated the state has the authority to regulate withdrawal of water on its own because the “preservation and conservation of fish and wildlife is a legitimate basis for regulation of withdrawals of running waters and one which Louisiana courts have found is included in the state’s police power.”

Jurors were given a few numbers to consider.

First, Landry said based on the self-clearing permits Spring Bayou users fill out when they go to the recreation area,there were 21,127 visitors in 2010, of which 4,232 said they were there to fish.

In 2017, there were 38,149 visitors with 18,784 there to fish.

“Many of these are from out-of-parish and even out-of-state,” Landry said.

The next number jurors were given was the 700 signatures on a petition Evans is circulating that supports stopping all pumping out of Spring Bayou when the water stops running over the dam. Evans said he is still gathering signatures.

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