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Environmentalists clash over dumping treated wastewater into wetlands

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MANDEVILLE, LA (WVUE) -

The flow of treated wastewater into wetlands and who monitors the practice has sent a wave of controversy throughout Louisiana's environmental community. 

For nearly a decade, Mandeville's Public Works Department has pumped treated wastewater into local wetlands. It is a practice called treated wastewater assimilation. 

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality says it bolsters wetlands, stating: "The introduction of nutritionally rich wastewater to natural wetlands is beneficial in that it stimulates productivity in the wetland...Proper management and monitoring is a key component of all wetland assimilation projects."

"Based on the scientists that we have working for us, we have seen some positives in this marsh and the Tchefuntche marsh," Mandeville Public Works Director David DeGeneres said. "We've seen some growth in the wetland...We have not seen any major problems with our marsh. We feel we have a healthy marsh."

Next week, Mandeville will look at renewing its permit with DEQ. 

Thursday night, DEQ will meet with residents to discuss the issue. 

Wastewater assimilation was accepted among most of the scientific community, but after 300 acres of wetlands vanished near Hammond, scientists with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation started to question the project. 

"We all know how bad our coastal crisis is. To basically have something that contributes to that would be a bad decision," LPBF's John Lopez said. "It's kind of disconcerting to us. It kind of looks like what happened in Hammond may be happening in Mandeville."

"These projects in many instances seem to be a detriment to that philosophy and that protection for the future," Louisiana Wildlife Federation Executive Director Rebecca Triche said. "Until there is independent monitoring and a better assessment of the cost and benefits of these types of projects, we wouldn't want to see new projects come online."

LPBF and LWF believe pumping the treated wastewater negatively impacts wetlands. The organizations want the state to stop issuing new permits. One area of concern for LPBF and LWF is that the company who designs and constructs these systems also monitors them to see if they are beneficial. 

"It's not necessarily particularly about Comite (Resources Inc.), but basically anytime you have one organization that's designing, overseeing construction and also monitoring it - and basically they're doing that - it does create a conflict of interest," Lopez said.

"If you have monitoring by the people who designed it, that's just not the kind of data that we want to see. That tells us there was an unbiased assessment," Triche said. 

DEQ stands by Comite Resources Inc.'s monitoring and data. 

Comite Resources Inc. did not return FOX 8's request for comment. 

DeGeneres said he works closely with Comite Resources for guidance in maintaining the system and the state's permitting process. 

"One way to solve this is to get an independent person to come and review both sides and say hey who is right and who is wrong. We feel we are right. Our science shows that we have a healthy marsh," DeGeneres said. 

DeGeneres argues the wetlands near Hammond were destroyed by nutria. 

Lopez and Triche believe nutria were only part of the problem. 

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