“This bayou, formerly called the river St. Francis, under which designation it is laid down in some old maps, is the creek through which run all the waters of a large basin, of a triangular form, about eighty square miles in surface, bounded on the south by the Mississippi, on the west by New Orleans, by bayou Sauvage or Chef-Menteur on the northwest, and on the east by lake Borgne, into which it empties. It receives the waters of several other bayous, formed by those of the surrounding cypress swamps and prairies, and of innumerable little streams from the low grounds along the river. It commences behind the suburb Marigny, at New Orleans, divides the triangle nearly into two equal parts from the summit to the lake which forms its basis, and runs in a south-easterly direction. It is navigable for vessels of one hundred tons as far as the forks of the canal of Piernas’ plantation, twelve miles from its mouth. Its breadth is from one hundred and ten to one hundred and fifty yards, and it has six feet water on the bar, at common tides, and nine feet at spring tides.”–Major Anton Lacarriere LaTour, 1816
At the beginning of the eighteenth century Bayou Bienvenue meandered through a dense cypress forest between New Orleans and Lake Borgne to the east. Its forest buffered hurricanes and protected the city from storms coming from the southeast. Lethal doses if salt water, ushered in on MRGO, killed of the 30,000 acres of wetlands in forty years, leaving behind tuffs of scrub marsh broken by open water where Bayou Bienvenue once flowed. It is called the Bayou Bienvenue-Central Wetland Unit and extends from New Orleans clear south to the Bayou la Loutre ridge at the point MRGO cut it in two. The MRGO spoil bank isolated it from Lake Borgne and turned it into an impoundment.
Bayou Bienvenue runs just south of the funnel, the intersection of MRGO and the Intracoastal Waterway, that steered Katrina’s storm surge into New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward. Just south of Bayou Bienvenue and butting up against the Lower Ninth Ward is the East Bank Sewage Treatment Plant, damaged by Katrina.
What to do with New Orleans’ sewage has been a problem since 1718. Not until the end of the nineteenth century did New Orleans separate its sewage from its drainage. The city pumped everything into the Mississippi. Beginning in 1893 the city sent its storm water to Lake Pontchartrain and its sewage up over the levees and into the Mississippi. In 2007 the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board still sent its treated wastewater up over the levees and into the Mississippi, albeit nutrient-rich wastewater. So did the St. Bernard Wastewater Treatment Plant at Chalmette.
In October 2006 ecologists from Louisiana State University found opportunity in those millions of gallons of wastewater that had been treated for solid waste, toxins, and other public health hazards. Pump it into the Central Wetlands, fertilize 10,000 acres of wetlands, push back saltwater coming in from MRGO, and keep the nutrients out of the Dead Zone.
Plant trees in the wetlands and in ten years a thirty-foot cypress forest would protect the Lower Ninth Ward. The cost would be $40 million for pumping stations and a distribution system. The funds would come from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program in two phases. Phase One included design and engineering and the installation of distribution lines from the plants to fertilize 2,300 acres of wetlands. Phase Two would implement the design from Phase One, replace treatment plants damaged by Katrina with a more economical design, and extend the distribution lines to fertilize all 10,000 acres. The plan had the blessing of the New Orleans Sierra Club, the Corps of Engineers, the University of Colorado’s Department of Landscape Architecture, and the Nelson Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, all of whom worked on a feasibility design at a practicum in early 2007.
The few residents, who remained in the Lower Ninth Ward in the eighteen months following Katrina, also gave their blessings. The restored forest would protect them in the event of another Katrina and would appeal to birders, hikers, canoers, and anglers who would contribute dollars to the local economy.
Brown, Matthew, “Sewage may be coast’s savior,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 16, 2006, http://www.nola.com/news/t-p/frontpage/index.ssf?/base/news-6/1160978422135610.xml&coll=1&thispage=1; Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Draft Louisiana Coastal Impact Assistance Plan, February 2007, 64-65, http://dnr.louisiana.gov/crm/ciap/draftplan.2007.02.01.pdf; The Nelson Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “2007 Practicum: Bayou Bienvenue-Central Wetland Unit, New Orleans”, http://www.nelson.wisc.edu/grad/requirements/wrm/pract_07_no.htm.