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MERMENTAU RIVER AND TRIBUTARIES, LA.
Colonel FERINGA. The next project on the list is for Mermentau River and tributaries, Louisiana.
The report on Mermentau River and tributaries, Louisiana, is in response to resolutions adopted by the Senate Commerce Committee on December 19, 1940, March 5, 1943, and January 11, 1945.
It is also in review of the report of the division engineer on preliminary examination and survey of "Mermentau River, La., from Grand Chenier to the Gulf," and of "Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and connecting streams, lakes and bays in Louisiana between Bayou Sale Ridge and the Calcasieu River in the interest of navigation, flood control, drainage, and for the prevention of stream pollution and salt water intrusion,” authorized by the River and Harbor Act approved March 2, 1945.
Mermentau River is formed by the junction of Bayous Nezpique and des Cannes near the town of Mermentau and flows southerly 71.5 miles through lakes and marshes to empty into the Gulf of Mexico about 15 miles east of Calcasieu Pass. Bayou Queue de Tortue enters Mermentau River from the east at mile 55. The Federally improved Gulf Intracoastal Waterway with project dimensions of 12 feet by 125 feet crosses the basin along the northerly edge of the marsh lands. Vermilion lock at mile 168 prevents salt water ingress from the east into the area under consideration.
The navigation improvement for Mermentau River, Bayou Nezpique and Bayou des Cannes, Louisiana, provides for removal of obstructions throughout the length of the river and to points 25 and 8.5 miles, respectively, above the mouths of Bayous Nezpique and des Cannes; and for dredging a channel 9 feet deep and 100 feet wide in Mermentau River from the Intracoastal Waterway to the junction of Bayous Nezpique and des Cannes.
The flood-control improvement for Mermentau River, Louisiana, authorized by Congress provides for channel enlargement from mile 15 to the Gulf of Mexico to secure a depth of 15 feet and a width of 170 feet and for construction of a lock and control spillway. Estimated cost of new work is $1,343,000. No construction work has been initiated.
Commerce on the Mermentau River, Bayou Nezpique, and Bayou des Cannes averaged about one million tons annually in the past 5-year period. It consisted mainly of petroleum products.
Mermentau River Basin comprises 3,500 square miles of coastal marsh, prairies, and uplands. The basin has a population of 127,000, of which 70 percent is rural. Agriculture is the principal occupation in the area, where approximately one-quarter of the rice production of the United States is raised. Other agricultural products are cotton, sugarcane, corn, sweet potatoes, and garden truck. Industries include oil production, trapping, cattle grazing, and lumbering.
Under existing conditions fresh water in Grand and White Lakes is rendered unavailable by the inflow of salt water from the Gulf through the lower Mermentau and Calcasieu Rivers by way of the Intracoastal Canal.
The Board notes the harmful inflow of salt water from the Gulf through the Calcasieu River by way of the Intracoastal Canal. The
proposed improvements would prevent uncontrolled salt-water intrusion during periods of low run-off from the basin as well as facilitate the outflow of fresh water during floods.
Accordingly, the Board recommends modification
(a) Of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to provide for a salt-water guard lock in the waterway at or near mile 231 west of Harvey Lock at an estimated first cost to the United States of $2,000,000 and annual maintenance and operation of $60,000 in addition to that now required;
(6) Of the existing flood-control project for Mermentau River, La., to provide for channel enlargement of lower Mermentau River below Grand Lake, mile 25, and for construction of a gated control structure at or near Grand Cheniere, mile 7, at an estimated first cost to the United States of $2,000,000 (including that authorized for the existing project, and annual maintenance and operation of $40,000;
(c) Of the existing project for inland waterway from Franklin, La., to Mermentau River, La., to provide for channel enlargement and realinement from Vermilion Bay to White Lake and from White Lake to Grand Lake, and for channel enlargement of North Prong of Schooner Bayou, and for construction of a gated control structure in the new channel near Schooner Bayou Lock, at an estimated first cost to the United States of $3,500,000 and annual maintenance and operation of $40,000 including that now provided for Schooner Bayou Lock and waterway west of Vermilion Bay.
The improvement is recommended subject to the provision that the local interests give assurances satisfactory to the Secretary of War that they will (1) furnish, free of cost to the United States, all lands, easements, rights-of-way, and spoil-disposal areas required for the initial construction and subsequent maintenance as required; (2) and hold and save the United States free from damages due to the construction works.
Cost to United States for new work, $7,500,000; annual cost of maintenance and operation, $140,000; interest and amortization, $346,300; total annual carrying charges, $486,300; cost to local interests for lands and rights-of-way, $25,000.
Operation of the improvements to maintain normal stages in coastal lakes and connected waterways at or below ordinary high-tide level would lower normal water levels and flood heights on contiguous lowlands and thereby reduce the duration of flooding. The ratio of costs to benefits is 1.0 to 1.20.
The Governor is very much interested, and incidentally, Mr. Pyburn has full authority to speak for the Governor, but we have not yet had an opportunity to hear from the Bureau of the Budget. As a matter of fact, I do not think it has quite cleared to the Budget yet.
In brief, Mr. Chairman, what is proposed is to positively deny salt water intrusion to this area, which is a rich farming area, owing to the Intracoastal Waterway at this point, and also the Mermentau River at this point, and finally the Intracoastal Waterway at this point [indicating). The benefits would exceed the cost.
Mr. PETERSON of Georgia. Can you point out to us the route of the Intracoastal Waterway?
Colonel FERINGA. The Intracoastal Waterway starts back here in Texas and comes through at this location [indicating], and it crosses the Calcasieu River. It crosses at this location indicating), and
there is same salt-water intrusion down the Intracoastal Waterway during times of low water. It then continues eastward to New Orleans, and it also finds its way up north to the vicinity of Baton Rouge.
Mr. PETERSON of Georgia. I notice two improvements proposed there east of the river and south of the Intracoastal Waterway. Is that an alternate route of the Intracoastal Waterway!
Colonel FERINGA. We might call it an alternate route. It is an existing waterway of this country. This country is served with waterways criss-crossed, feeding into the Intracoastal Waterway. For instance, much of the fishing industry is carried on in the Gulf of Mexico and the fishing boats come in and this location [indicating] and also they have great salt deposits there. There is a salt dome in this vicinity, Schooner Bayou, where much salt is mined and put on board ship. So this is not the through route, the one that we are recommending.
Mr. PETERSON of Florida. Is that farm land through there along the route on which you propose the improvement!
Colonel FERINGA. This is very rich farm land; yes, sir. Mr. Pyburn can tell you more exactly about that. I think, unless I am mistaken, it is one of the largest rice-producing centers and also sugarcane centers.
Mr. McDonough. The question of salinity in there raises the point in my mind that when we were discussing the ship canal in Cailfornia the point was made that if the water did not get out of the canal it would not cause any salinity in the surrounding community.
Colonel FERINGA. This water is normally fresh water, and during times of high water there would be no danger of salt-water intrusion, but during times of low water this water is pumped out of these lakes and therefore, there is an influx of water from any source that can be found. It is to deny the influx of salt water into the fresh-water basins that these control works are requested.
Mr. PETERSON of Georgia. Why is it taken out of the river?
Colonel FERINGA. For rice culture. They need an awful lot of water for that purpose.
Mr. PETERSON of Georgia. For irrigation ?
Colonel FERINGA. It is merely to make the water available to put it all over the land.
Mr. PETERSON of Florida. And that lowers the lakes?
Colonel FERINGA. That is right, and during periods of dry weather there is danger of the salt-water intrusion because the water level is lowered by pumping which is necessary to obtain the water for discharge over the land.
Mr. PETERSON of Georgia. Mr. Larcade.
STATEMENT OF HON. HENRY D. LARCADE, JR., A REPRESENTA
TIVE IN CONGRESS, REPRESENTING THE SEVENTH DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
Mr. LARCADE. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, I appear before your honorable committee in support of the Mermentau River project which is a part of a comprehensive flood control, navigation, sanitation, and control of salt-water intrusion, linked up with
the Gulf intercoastal waterway and connecting streams, lakes and bays in southwest Louisiana, all in accordance with the recommendations of the United States engineers in consultation with the Louisiana Department of Public Works, and approved by my constituents in the affected area, all after careful study, surveys, meetings, and hearings, and after experiments by the district and division engineers with a model constructed at Vicksburg, Miss.
The area where it is sought to give relief is principally known as the Mermentau River Basin, an area which for the past 50 years has been visited at frequent intervals by floods of major proportions, such as those of 1940 and 1941. The United States Department of Agriculture estimated that the 1940 flood alone caused damages estimated at $10,000,000.
This section of Southwest Louisiana is one of the largest agricultural districts of the United States producing rice, cotton, corn, sugarcane, sweetpotatoes, soybeans, hay, oats, and legumes, and produces nearly 75 percent of the total production of rice in the State of Louisiana, and it is my opinion that, when this project is completed to control the flood waters from this section as proposed by the United States engineers that it is possible to increase the production not only of rice, but nearly all other agricultural products at least 50 percent.
Since rice is one of the principal products of this section and requires irrigation most of the water utilized to irrigate rice is taken from the Mermentau River and other streams, and at certain seasons of the year water has intruded into these streams and has caused thousands of dollars of damage to the growing crop of rice.
In the project under consideration the United States engineers have provided for the control of salt-water encroachment in these rivers and streams which supply the essential irrigation for rice, and have provided locks and other controls which will dispose of this recurring menace to the important rice industry.
The area which will be protected by the project under consideration is also one of the largest oil-producing districts in the United States, and the improvement and deepening of the channels of the streams under this project will furnish essential navigation for this important industry, as well as for commerce in this area. To give your honorable committee a better idea of the problems sought to be relieved, I have brought a map of Louisiana which I am exhibiting to you for reference in order that you may realize the area affected, and I point out 14 parishes that are affected by the project under consideration, and will discuss the projects off the record at length.
For your further information, I wish to quote from an article written by Mr. Richard H. Tate, newspaper writer from Baton Rouge, La., which I think is an excellent description of the area under discussion. [Reading:]
To properly visualize the area to be affected by the three-river program one should envisage a triangle of almost equilaterial shape, The apex of the triangle being at a point about where the town of Alexandria is the southwest corner at the point where a line drawn through Alexandria southwestward through Franklin, and finally touching the Cameron coast on the Gulf. The east side of the triangle would be a line drawn southeastward from Alexandria, passing through Franklin and finally touching the Gulf on the shore of St. Mary Parish.
In this area lie some 9,900 square miles and there live a total of almost 500,000 people scattered through the parishes of Jeff Davis, Cameron, Acadia,
Vermilion, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, and Iberia. The farm lands located in this area, according to officials, approach a total of 2,500,000 acres.
However, for years much of this farm land has been of questionable worth because of the matter of overflow. It is to correct this very evil that the tririver program his been pushed so long by officials of the State, and now that it is a certainty, it is felt that not only will it afford much flood relief in itself but it opens the door to more complete local drainage programs for the various parishes themselves. Heretofore, much drainage work that might have been done has been rendered doubtful as to ultimate result because of the lack of proper outlets in this general sector.
Due to wave action along the Gulf coast a barrier, and in effect a dam, of several feet in height has been raised that has in many areas raised the level of the sea marshes to 2 and 3 feet above the sea level, thus any attempt at drainage was tremendously handicapped by this fact. Only the Mermentau and the Vermilion Rivers afforded any kind of an outlet through this area due to the beach barrier and with the slow but steady silting up of the mouths of these two rivers the condition was steadily deteriorating.
According to the brief submitted to the Senate committee in Washington in regard to the program one of the chief arguments stressing the vital nature of the program hinged on the fact that in the past some $9,000,000 has been spent in this section on local drainage projects. Because of the lack of proper outlets, such as those now assured in the current projects, this expenditure was largely in vain.
This work, in the past, was conducted principally during the years 1900 to 1910, and by the early 1930's, when low prices on farm commodities prevailed, many of the districts in which this early work had been done defaulted on their bonds and interest, and, finally, many farms were lost due to nonpayment. of taxes.
By 1939 and 1940, with farm prices everywhere improving, many of these farmers sought to rehabilitate themselves and their farmš so that today, with an unprecedented increase in the demand for farm produce itself tacit assurance that these people will be able to pay for this rehabilitation, there is a definite demand throughout the entire area for adequate drainage.
Also there is in the offing additional work of this nature on a local basis and at least four parishes in the affected area currently contemplate local drainage programs. These parishes are Vermilion, Iberia, St. Martin, and Lafayette, and with the Federal program set, Director of the Department of Public Works Pyburn believes that it will encourage the people in this section to improve their own drainage facilities.
As you have noted in previous statements the local interests in the Mermentau River Basin have expended approximately $10,000,000 for drainage, and as stated in the article by Mr. Tate, much of that amount has been spent in vain due to not having any outlets to the Gulf. However, notwithstanding this expenditure of $10,000,000 by local interests in that area, in addition to the amount that will be expended by the Government for this project, it is proposed that the local drainage districts in the area will be consolidated in accordance with the recommendation of Hon. DeWitt Pyburn, director of the department of public works, who is here present and who will appear before your committee in support of this project, and who will, no doubt advise you that the Legislature of the State of Louisiana has appropriated $5,000,000, to help these and other parishes in the State of Louisiana in their drainage problems, and fund spent by the State will be matched by the consolidated districts or by the parishes from the proceeds of bond issues which it is anticipated will be authorized to pursue this important work.