Lake watchers say conditions changing since spillway closure

Spillway opening impact

NORCO, La. (WVUE) - As water levels drop in the at the Bonnet Carre Spillway, the six-mile long channel is attracting once-threatened birds from miles around. And, with all the bays closed Friday (April 12), Lake Pontchartrain watchers are looking out for possible algae blooms, but say the lake is already exhibiting signs of recovery.

Norco resident Dan Simoneaux said he considers the spillway his backyard, and he was out to play Friday. He pulled in a nice haul of freshwater shad and one big carp.

And one day after the Army Corps of Engineers closed the 260 bays opened this year, Simoneaux’s view was one of an ever-changing landscape.

“That’s a lot of pelicans out there. The spillway made a big comeback,” Simoneaux said.

Hundreds of once-threatened white pelicans spent much of the day feeding on fish, which accumulated near the now closed, but still leaking spillway bays.

As the water goes down, the eagle population is soaring. There were ten eagles spotted Friday afternoon feeding on fish left behind -- something that would have been unheard of years ago.

With the closure, which wrapped up Thursday, Lake Pontchartrain appears to be returning to its normal color, according to Kristi Trail with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

“Our offices are on the lake. We have noticed it’s no longer milky brown, and it’s returning back to clearer conditions,” Trail said.

This was the first time in which the Army Corps conducted back-to-back openings -- one in 2018, and one this year. Agencies like the Lake Pontchartrain Basin foundation take samples to determine the impacts of river water on the brackish lake.

“Last year, we did see algae blooms. We’re not sure if it’s attributed to the spillway or not, because there are so many variables that can contribute to that,” Trail said.

Trail said algae blooms are likely later this year when the water gets warmer, but they expect the lake to fully recover.

“With each weather condition that comes through, it will be back to it’s normal state in no time,” Trail said.

With a diminishing supply of fresh water in the spillway channel, Simoneaux said he knows his fishing days here numbered.

"Probably another week," he said.

But with a little luck, he hopes to catch many more fish to be used as bait in his crawfish traps.

If you notice anything unusual about the lake such as algae blooms, The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation wants to hear from you. You may contact them at saveourlake.org.

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