All eyes on the Bonnet Carre

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - “If we open the spillway, it’s because there's a fundamental public safety issue on the table,” says Mark Davis, director of the Tulane University Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy.

The last time the Bonnet Carre was opened was 2011. Davis says one big difference this time around is the weather, which could be good news for the Lake Pontchartrain.

“No one's doing farming or plowing up North, so it's not going to be a replay (of 2011.) This probably means ecologically, the lake's gonna be less stressed. Lake Pontchartrain is shallow and gets warm pretty quickly, and that makes it like a petri dish,” says Davis.

The petri dish scenario encourages faster algae growth, but that's not likely during colder weather.

Even so, John Lopez, Coastal Program Coordinator of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, says a spillway opening in the coming days would put the Foundation on watch for algae blooms in the coming months—and any wildlife changes such as the snakes that showed up after the last opening.

“This has happened before. The spillway has been opened 10 times before, so we have a pretty good idea of what can happen,” says Lopez.

He says the lake will turn brown and will be completely full with river water, a displacement that takes about two weeks to happen once the spillway is opened.

“It will force some of the fish out as the fresh water moves in, but the salinity normally recovers in about four to six months, so things recover pretty quickly,” says Lopez.

Bottom line for the Lake, according to Lopez: There could be some potential short term effects, but nothing to worry about long term.

A press conference is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 pm. If the Army Corps of Engineers announces even a partial opening, it would be a highly public event that will take hours. The public is invited, and even encouraged, to watch the opening unfold.

It’s a regional phenomenon that shows the intricate, complicated and powerful relationship between man and the Mississippi.

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