Outdoor Corner: A great success and a great project

Lyle Johnson / Contributing Writer
(L to R) Robert Twilley, Andre Rovai, Alexandra Christensen, and Gerald Gaspard of Pure Fishing with map showing the layout of the "Wax." Arrow points to where we are standing on Camp Island.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the annual Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association's conference in Morgan City. One of the events for members takes place on Saturday morning and usually offers something unique about the area.

This year's was no exception as fifteen journalists were invited to a tour of the Wax Lake Delta. Robert Twilley, executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant Program and professor of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University was our host for the morning, accompanied by LSU Research Associates Andre Rovai and Alexandra Christensen.

"The Wax" as most of us call it, is very well known for the waterfowl hunting and many Ascension parish folks make this spot their duck hunting choice. The best thing about the location is the Wax is in the Atchafalaya Delta WMA so it's open to the public and will never be posted. (The fishing is not too shabby, either.)

As great as the fishing and hunting are, it's secondary to the phenomenon of the new land that has been forming as a result of the natural sediment deposits from the Atchafalaya River that's been happening over the years.

I've never been to the Wax, but I feel like I know it well as over the years many folks that I'm acquainted with hunt there, and it's in the news because of land forming instead of getting washed away. This foray into the heart of new land was an eye-opener for me in more ways than one.

With me in the boat was James "Goosie" Guice and John Flores, a writer for the St. Mary Now website and a local to the area. We were privileged to have as our host Andre Rovai. Andre comes to Louisiana via Brazil graduating from LSU, returning to Brazil before landing the job he has now.

Twilley led the caravan of three boats to Camp Island to pull out his map of the Delta and give us the lay of the land (pun intended) and the history of the Wax Lake Outlet. The Wax Lake outlet is an artificial channel that was created by the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1942 to divert 30 percent of the flow from the Atchafalaya River to the Gulf of Mexico and reduce flood stages at Morgan City, Louisiana.

The project design flood flow capacity for the outlet is 440,000 cubic feet per second. It receives 34 million tons of sediment per year. In the 64 years between 1941 and 2005, Wax Lake itself was completely filled with sediment, and the delta extended the land mass approximately five miles into the gulf.

The creation of the new land didn't really get its start until after the flood of 1973. In 1974 the first island formed its head and began the formation of what is called now Camp Island where we stood and heard the history, science along with the reason LSU Sea Grant spends their time here to mark the changes.

After the head forms, levees form next on each side of the head making the islands like arrow heads when you look on the maps. Each year when it floods, the sediment lengthens the levees and forms more land. "Willow trees are the predominate species," noted Rovai. "They are very hardy and survive all types of weather as well."

As we idled down one of the islands, the trees gave way to marsh vegetation as the land elevation changed. "The interior remains mostly marshy and fills in with decaying matter," stated Rovai. "It grows but at a much slower pace."

In layman's terms, these three scientists spend a fair amount of time studying the growth and figuring out how things happened. But they do some pretty cool stuff as well. Rovai uses water level recorders to take measurements when the wetland is covered by water.

The data he collects is used in the calibration of sensors being flown on NASA aircraft that eventually will be placed on satellites. "If the sensors show good results monitoring what they see here in the Atchafalaya and Mississippi River deltas and the Terrebonne and Barataria basins, then they can be utilized around the world monitoring wetlands."

Of all the "scientific stuff" we learned that day, this beyond a shadow of a doubt is the coolest. Robert Twilley loves to take kids out to the Delta. Because of the elevation data concerning the vegetation, he can take them to a spot and show them land created the year they were born.

Because the Wax Lake Delta was entirely created during an observable period, and other than the creation of the canal was not altered by humans, it has often been in studies of deltaic formation. In the time since Hurricane Katrina, it has also served as a model for delta regrowth in the Mississippi River Delta region in order to restore habitat and protect against storm surge.

There is another spot on the east side of the river from Buras to Baptiste Collette where the marsh is prospering and adding land instead of losing it. The levee took the river away so the only hope is to move the levee away where we can and let it flow through the marsh again. It's the only hope. "Let the river flow" has been the phrase repeated over and over in my mind lately as that is what's needed.

Nutrient-rich, freshwater being introduced back to the marsh is the only long-term cure along with pumped-in sand to help create land mass. But this will cause hardship for many folks who live and make their sustenance from the salt water. Their concern is legitimate but if we don't do anything, their land and homes will disappear as well in time.

The Prophet Ezekiel sees a vision of a great river that flows from the throne of God. This is part of that vision: "Every living thing that gathers where the river goes will live. There will be very many fish, because these waters go there and make the salt water clean."

So everything will live where the river goes. "Fishermen will stand beside it. They will have places to spread their nets from the Biloxi marsh to the Sabine River." (Biloxi and Sabine added by me.) Maybe we could follow the advice of the One who created it in the first place. Let the river flow.

Lyle Johnson is a free-lance writer, co-host of Ascension Outdoors TV and Curator of the Louisiana State Fish Records. He can be contacted at reelman@eatel.net.

Outdoor Calendar

EASL Monthly Meeting: 3rd Monday every month, East Ascension Sportsman's League meeting held at Gonzales Fire Dept. on Orice Roth Rd. starting at 7 p.m. A meal served and special speaker will be in attendance.

Wednesday Evening Bass Tourney: Every Wednesday at Canal Bank from 5 p.m. until dark. Fee $40/boat, one time registration fee of $40 going toward the Classic Tournament. Weekly event through spring, summer. Call Canal Bank for information. 225-695-9074

CCA Louisiana S.T.A.R. Fishing Rodeo: May 25 thru Sept 2 summer-long CCA Louisiana saltwater fishing event. Tagged Redfish, Offshore, Inshore, Ladies & Children's divisions. Registration required. Must be CCA member. Website: ccastar.com.

Ride the Bull Extreme Kayak Redfish Tournament: August 23 & 24 taking place at Bridgeside Marina in Grand Isle. Sponsored by CCA Louisiana. For all the info & registration go to www.ccalouisiana.com.

South La. Highpower Club Match: Aug 25 @ 8:30 a.m., Ascension Parish Sheriff's Range, St. Landry Road, Gonzales. NRA match rifle or service rifle, 200-yard/50-rounds match course. Fee $12 members, $15 nonmembers, $5 juniors. $15 annual club & Civilian Marksmanship Program membership (allows purchases from CMP). Call George Serrett 225-389-6118. Email: gserrett41@cox.net.

Need an event publicized? Contact Lyle at reelman@eatel.net.