By Times staff
What was projected to be the biggest and the first of it’s kind for transferring water from one source to another has turned out to be a $5.8 million headache. The Cane River Waterway’s Commission (CRWC) has spent four years on the project to establish a pipeline and pumping station from Red River into Cane River when water levels were critically low.
Four straight tests over a five-month period at the pump station failed and the Commission is now suing the contractor. Jim Rhodes, Chairman of the Commission, said, “The goal of the Commission is to protect and to make Cane River worth something, other than a drainage ditch.” He added, “We want water in Cane River. We don’t want a product that has failed to work.” Speaking to the Agitators Wednesday evening, Rhodes said the issue is with the 40-micron filtration system. He said that such fine a filtration has never been done before. The 40 micron filtration is one arrived at by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the US Fish and Wildlife agencies.
Rhodes said two companies were provided the specs by the project contractor, who ultimately selected a firm based on the ability to produce the 40 micron filtration. The Commission’s engineer, Randy Denmond, of Ruston did not design the specs on the filtration system he stated. The reason for US Fish and Wildlife input was because of the National Fish Hatchery that sits adjacent to Cane River. They rely on water pumped from Cane River for the Fish Hatchery.
That Hatchery would be jeopardized if the invasive Zebra Mussels and their larvae found in Red River penetrated a filtration system and ended up in their ponds. It was reported this had happened at another National Fish Hatchery and it effectively shut that facility down for good. The local fish hatchery reportedly did not want to partner with the Cane River Waterway Commission on this project when it was in the planning stage. Rhodes said he was also told later the Hatchery had a filtration system already in place, but that it was not working. The pipeline and filtration system was intended to move 30,000 gallons of water a minute. However, the testing yielded only 10,000 gallons per minute. Some have asked why not go ahead and take the 10,000 gallons a minute? He argued that to do so would burn up the motors and “that gets us no place.” The project contractor was Womack and Sons Construction of Harrisonburg, La.
They were awarded the bid in 2014 to construct the pipeline and the pumping station. The litigation is with the Construction Company and bonding company. In talking about the causes of Cane River’s fluctuating water levels, Rhodes said it’s wrong to blame the farmers who pump from Cane River for irrigation purposes. He said most of the water loss could be attributed to evaporation. He also said private families along Cane River pump out almost as much as the farmers pump. Aside from the pumping issues, Rhodes said the Commission has a number of projects on-going and was recently recognized with the City of Natchitoches for the revitalization of the downtown riverbank. The Commission, made up of five members, has been working with the Corp of Engineers on bank stabilization near the St. Augustine Church.
He said after five years, the Corp has realized the erosion is not from the flow of the river but from boat traffic. The Commission is also partnering with the parish on a project off Bermuda Road. On the northern end of the river, Rhodes said dredging is a long-term project costing lots of money and study.