Initial water samples from 24 sites show higher-than-normal bacteria after Hurricane Katrina, but nothing to match the alarming predictions that the floodwater could alter the habitat of the lake permanently and damage the fisheries that depend on it, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said.
"There is no toxic soup in Lake Pontchartrain," said Carlton Dufrechou, director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
The lake can recover from the damage caused by bacteria, toxins, pesticides and metals being pumped out of the city into the lake, the state environmental officials said at a briefing on the lake's status.
The 630-square mile lake bounds the city to the north and is the second largest lake in the United States after the Great Lakes. For generations, New Orleanians have sailed, played and fished on the water. The lake was showing signs of a full recovery after a 15-year effort to reverse the effects of 60 years of clam shell dredging and unbridled urban and farm runoff.
Al Hindrichs, water quality coordinator for the Environmental Quality Department, said most damage so far seemed to come from the hurricane itself, pushing debris and fecal bacteria into the lake and decreasing oxygen levels — rather than from the floodwaters being pumped out of New Orleans.
The biggest hits to the lake seem confined to the shore areas, officials said.
Fish kills were found on the north shore because of low oxygen levels, not toxins or oils, Hindrichs said.
Along the south shore — where neighborhoods and large sections of New Orleans flooded and the water from the city is being pumped into the lake — an area near the pumping showed levels of fecal bacteria well above levels safe for drinking or swimming. But Hindrichs stressed that was the only location with those levels on the south shore.
The floodwater pushed into the lake made up only about 4 percent of the 630-square-mile body of water a few days ago and wasn't expected to top 10 percent, diluting the contaminated water's effect, he said.
As close as four miles offshore from New Orleans, samples showed normal oxygen levels and low amounts of fecal bacteria that met water quality standards, Hindrichs said.
Officials continue sampling and acknowledge that concentrations of contaminants could be in the "bottom of the bowl," those final waters that are being pumped out of the city now that about 90 percent of the floodwaters have been drained.
Besides the contamination, full-scale fishing might not be back for a long time because fishing camps and boat docks were wiped out, said Harry Blanchet, the state finfish manager said.
"The real challenge will be to find a place to put your boat in and to find bait — that's if you have a boat anymore," Blanchet said. "People will find other areas to fish in."
September 21, 2005 7:23 AM | Category: Chemicals