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Louisiana Joins Lawsuit Over Bonnet Carre Spillway Damage

Cypress trees lining Lake Pontchartrain near the Bonnet Carre Spillway are dying from salt water intrusion.
Eileen Fleming
Cypress trees lining Lake Pontchartrain near the Bonnet Carre Spillway are dying from salt water intrusion.

The state of Louisiana has joined two lawsuits as a defendant over the operation of the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

One of the lawsuits was filed by a collection of coastal Mississippi towns. It claims that the increasingly frequent use of the Bonnet Carre Spillway has damaged the environment of the Mississippi coast, and wants new environmental assessments to be completed.

The flood control structure, which diverts from the Mississippi River into Lake Pontchartrain, has caused environmental problems across the Gulf Coast — damaging harvests of oyster and shrimp fisheries and causing toxic algal blooms that have shut down Mississippi beaches.

The other was filed by the state of Mississippi. It makes similar claims and asks for other flood control structures, like the Morganza Spillway located north of Baton Rouge, to be used more often.

Both lawsuits were filed within a week of one another in December 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Now the state of Louisiana is jumping into the mix. On June 12, a federal judge allowed the Bayou State state to become a defendant in both cases, alongside the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the flood control structures, and the Mississippi River Commission, which decides when to do so.

Making its case to join the suits, the state said that “while Louisiana supports the operation of the spillway to protect lives and property, it also recognizes that the Corps could take steps to manage water resources differently during high water events.”

For most of its history, the Bonnet Carre was used once every 10 years, but it’s been opened 6 times in the last 10 years.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. 

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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