This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

My Photo
Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

2011 High Water – Nineteen

Well, we are settling in, or resettling in, I guess. The water is down off of the deck and the six inches of mud on it has been brushed away. The river is becoming more calm by the day. Throughout this whole thing there has been a remarkable lack of debris in the channel. Commercial fishermen noted this to me yesterday, and I certainly agree. After predicting the huge amount of accumulated litter that would come down once the Morganza gates were opened, it didn’t happen. What did come down was much smaller than anticipated, the individual pieces I mean. Not the huge trees and floating islands of logs and tangled masses of smaller vegetation that I thought would come.

There is a strange item that came up yesterday during a visit to the southern end of Grand Lake. Talking with Edward Couvillier and Kevin, his son, is always an enlightening experience. Both commercial catfishermen, they use lines and hooks and fish the hard way, at least that's how it seems to me. The odd thing was that they caught a stingray yesterday out in the lake. The water is still high by anybody’s reckoning, and the stingrays should (my word) not be up in the freshwater yet, not until the water is very low and allowing some salt water to sneak into the usually fresh lower Atchafalaya Basin and Grand Lake. But they are coming up nevertheless. I wonder if the sharks will be early this year also, giving the fishermen headaches much earlier than usual. The closeup of the sting from the ray shows why it’s not a good idea to get punctured by one. Not only does it not come out easily, the mucous on it hurts, a LOT.

The river is at 17.8 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, continuing to fall slowly for the foreseeable future. The Missouri is flexing some muscle, but that shouldn’t affect us down here. The Mississippi and Ohio are both falling slowly all the way up, as they should be doing right now. At this slow rate of fall we may not get to the low water period for this cycle until August. Crawfishermen are not complaining, or at least not more than they usually do. Passing on the levee yesterday, I saw literally hundreds of trucks parked at the six or seven landings being used by the wild-crawfish fishermen right now. Looks good for them.

Rise and Shine, Jim

Thursday, June 09, 2011

2011 High Water – Eighteen

Night Visitors. There are night visitors in the back yard. Today Flurry the Cat and I discovered the evidence. Beings with cloven hooves are walking up and down the riverbank in the darkness. The water is still high in the swamp that extends out to Henderson and I guess some of the animals who live there prefer a drier place. I don’t mind the deer, but now I will be looking for the foliage in the yard to show signs of nibbling.

The river is at 19.5 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, continuing to fall slowly. The Ohio and Mississippi are both falling all the way up. No more water coming from them soon.

Rise and Shine, Jim

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

2011 High Water - Seventeen

So the excitement begins to fade. We are no longer looking at a charging wild animal. Facing us now is something resembling a sleeping cat, calm and relaxed, becoming more and more relaxed as each day passes. Soon it will just be the river we knew before.

The markers we kept track of as the water rose are the same ones we now watch as the water recedes. It is easy to see the outside rail on the deck, at least it is easy to see now. It sits at about the 21 foot level, and the water is about ½ foot below it. At the river’s crest, the rail was under about two feet of water. The oak and cherry tree had water up past their trunks, and now it is retreating out toward the channel.

A thick coat of mud covers the ground where the water stood for several days. Grass will grow well there, the mud is rich in those things which cause plants to grow. But that richness does no good for the walkway and the deck floor, and I am clearing it off as the water reveals the mud. It is sobering to think that that same mud might have been covering the floor of our house instead of being harmlessly covering outside structures. Yes, a lot to be thankful for.

It is also sobering to hear of drastic responses to the near-miss that we had here in Butte La Rose. I say drastic because some of the reactions people have don’t seem to be merited by the degree of danger we actually suffered. We had a near-miss, not a full blown catastrophe, but some people are leaving the community forever because of an emotional response to the threat. One family has been here for 37 years, and they are now looking for a house to buy elsewhere, where the water cannot come. These are people who have been at the heart of the development of the community. They will be missed.

The river is at 20.4 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, falling slowly toward a summer low of perhaps four or five feet. The Ohio and Mississippi are not doing much. The Missouri will send some water to us, but not in the volume that caused the current crisis. It just doesn’t have the muscle that the Ohio does.

Rise and Shine, Jim

Thursday, June 02, 2011

2011 High Water – Sixteen

Well, we are back. Our evacuation lasted all of eight days, and thanks for that. We came back to an empty house. No food, no anything. Except, that the house is here and it doesn’t need repairs, and no flood insurance claim needs to be made. Looks like we won’t get to test the FEMA waters this time around. We even thought of one of those little white trailers as a potential long-term place to stay. But no, not this time. Hopefully not ever.

There was a snake in one of my shrimp traps when we got back, a water snake, no problem. It was very anxious to get out of the trap but I want to take a few pictures of it so it lives on with the shrimp and small fish as neighbors until tomorrow. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good place for a fish-eating snake to live.

The cats are back. They boarded with friends while we were gone. More generous people!

A call from a friend asked if I would like to fly over Butte La Rose and see what the water looked like from the air. Yes, I surely would. His name is Ken (no last names on the blog unless cleared first, my rule) and he has a two-seater that he built himself – literally. Nearly every, bolt, screw and instrument was done by him, from a kit. He has been building it for several years and recently finished. A bit disconcerting was the note on the dashboard from the FAA. It said passengers should be aware that the plane you were in was built by an amateur and you were basically on your own. But it went up, and it went down, and it did everything a plane is supposed to do, I think. It was a fun trip!

What did we see flying over the Atchafalaya River and the levee following it, and the Butte La Rose area? Well, nothing heavily dramatic. There simply is no evidence of the serious consequences you see on the news reporting from the cities along the Mississippi. The Atchafalaya just didn’t get to the levels that it would have taken to do serious damage on a wide scale. Some houses got flooded, to be sure, but those are mostly on an elevation not much different from the forest floor. The river bank didn’t flood. At 29 feet it would have gone over the bank for the first time in recorded history, I believe, but not at 23.5 feet. Perhaps some places on the river got flooded in 1973 when the crest was 27 feet, but not many.
Anyway, here are a few pics to show basically that Butte La Rose was not seriously impacted by the high water of 2011. The view along the levee shows the extent of the water relative to the houses on the high river bank. It didn’t reach them. Some docks got flooded, and maybe a few other structures that were down near the water. Our house is right in the middle of one of the pics. There is a rectangular floating dock out in the river, and our house is behind it, basically covered by trees. I never realized that we had the most forested property along the river in our area. Our house is barely visible. Another picture shows the Butte La Rose boat landing, near the general store. It too was not flooded out. The water came pretty much to the top of it, but that’s all. In the middle background of that picture you can see water between the river and the levee top. That water is covering the driveways of several people who cannot return home yet. The houses are fine, except for the driveways.

One picture shows the so-called pontoon bridge at the far end of the Butte La Rose road, as some call it (Herman Dupuis Road, to others). The bridge was held open for the last couple weeks but is scheduled to become passable again in the next few days. No flooding is apparent in this area either, but farther up this road is where some houses did take on water.

And that’s about the extent of it. Everyone was well warned that there was potential for very serious consequences and Butte La Rose was about as ready for it as a community can be. But, we are happy that this was an adventure we did not need to have.

The river is at 21.4 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, falling to 20.5 feet by June 8, and falling more thereafter. I saw a lot of sacks of crawfish piled in front of a wholesaler today. Perhaps we will get a late season this year.

Rise and Shine, Jim