When you think of a Louisiana swamp, this is not what comes to mind

“Draw down” turns part of the Atchafalaya Basin dry
Updated: Nov. 16, 2022 at 9:05 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Anyone who has driven along I-10 between Lafayette and Baton Rouge has journeyed over Henderson Lake, soaking in a classic view of towering cypress trees in a Louisiana swamp.

These days, parts of the Henderson Swamp look more like a desert.

“We’re hiking in the middle of a lake,” explained Ben Pierce, Executive Director of McGee’s Louisiana Swamp and Airboat Tours.

Lower water levels this fall, 10 or 12 feet lower than normal, divulge all kinds of secrets which lie below the murky waters of a swamp.

The Diamond Lady
The Diamond Lady(Action News 5)
A shipwreck is exposed along the banks of the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, due to low...
A shipwreck is exposed along the banks of the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, due to low water levels, on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in Baton Rouge, La. Archaeologists believe the ship is a ferry that was built in the late 1800s or early 1900s and sunk in 1915. (AP Photo/Stephen Smith)(Stephen Smith | AP)
A man walking along the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, La., stops to look at a shipwreck...
A man walking along the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, La., stops to look at a shipwreck revealed by the low water level on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022. The ship, which archaeologists believe to be a ferry that sunk in the late 1800s to early 1900s, was spotted by a Baton Rouge resident walking along the shore earlier this month. (AP Photo/Sara Cline)(Sara Cline | AP)

An old houseboat is visible along with over 100-year-old cypress stumps. The swamp floor looks as though it is paved in cobblestone.

“It’s something totally different,” Pierce said. “I love it.”

It was also done intentionally.

St. Martin Parish government, in consultation with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, opened a control structure near the southern end of the 25,000-acre Henderson Lake in what is referred to as a “draw down.”

“So, if you think of it like a bathtub and you pull the plug, we’ve pulled the plug and we’ve allowed all this water to come out,” Pierce said.

Local leaders often attempt to open this drain in the fall months to take advantage of less rainfall.

The draw down has a number of potential benefits, including killing hyacinth and other invasive water plants; improving the overall water quality of areas that might have been stagnant for several years; and hardening the floor of the swamp. When the water levels eventually rise, it provides fish with a firmer foundation on which to lay their eggs. Eggs are then less likely to sink in the muck of the swamp floor.

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The water control efforts are not guaranteed to be successful.

Last year, for example, Hurricane Ida brought huge amounts of rainwater runoff into the Atchafalaya Basin.

“We actually had water levels rise about seven feet in ten days here in the Atchafalaya just from Ida.”

St. Martin Parish recently closed the control structure, which will allow the water levels to begin rising once again in the swamp.

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