House Bill 321 is effectively dead in the water after the last legislative session, and local authorities are left disappointed.
"I'm real disappointed by what I saw down there (Baton Rouge)," Jim Bonsall, Webster Parish Police Juror told the Bistineau Task Force at their regularly scheduled meeting last week.
HB 321 sought to form a pact involving the Webster, Bossier and Bienville parish police juries and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and allow the juries to sell water from Lake Bistineau to oil companies. The proceeds from water sales would benefit the lake.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Jean Doerge and co-authored by Rep. Jim Fannin. The funds from the water would have been used to battle giant salvinia and restoring Bistineau's recreation areas. It could also help with a state plan that involves cutting trees and restructuring the spillway so the lake could be drained.
Previously, the bill garnered opposition from Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, who questioned why the bill wasn't before the Department of Natural Resources Committee. According to Bonsall, Rep. Doerge said she tried to get someone from DNR to work with her, but her calls went unanswered.
More opposition came from Lou Buatt, assistant secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, who said the bill could interfere with an ongoing study of water management in the region. The bill was sent to DNR.
"Mrs. Doerge changed the bill to try to make the DNR happy, but when she got done with all the changes there wasn't anything left," Bonsall said. "The state wanted to run the sale of the water, and the parish wouldn't have anything to do with it."
According to Bonsall, the state wants the money from water sales to run state programs and 15 percent of the sales to go toward education. Bonsall also told BTF the state is offering economic incentives to the companies that use the water. Currently, the state sells the water at four cents per every 1,000 gallons.
"I don't know the particulars, but the state is giving them (oil and gas companies) permission (to take the water) as long as they are providing jobs for the economy," he said.
Senator Robert Adley, R- Benton, spoke to the BTF about HB 321 and offered his support on future legislation focused on selling water.
"The bill allowed funds to be taken out for administrative charges," Adley said. "I don't want DNR walking away with that money. I don't want the juries walking away with it. I want the money put in the lake. That's my only position. I'll be more than glad to help you with it (legislation) in any way I can as long as the money goes to the lake to solve the problems. I don't want anyone getting rich off this, including the state of Louisiana.
"I think we do ourselves harm and we do our constituents harm if we find ways to make money off a bad situation," he continued. "We ought to be in the business of fixing things."
Also discussed at the meeting was the threat of Giant Salvinia, which is lower than in years past. Now the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is seeing problems with alligator weed, which has been growing back after spraying.
"We are doing some experimental spraying to determine what's effective and cost effective to use on alligator weed," said Alex Perrett of LDWF.
BTF also discussed private spraying training classes to be offered to homeowners along the lake. The classes will be aimed at helping landowners know what chemicals and what amount of those chemicals are best used on certain weeds. A date has not been set on the classes, yet, but BTF and LDWF support the classes.
"I think it's key to offer this program here," said Perrett. "Give the homeowners the knowledge, education and tools they need to combat this at home. This will save valuable time and can be very helpful in some situations."
Evan Thames of the LDWF reiterated he was happy about the response received from the public regarding the reporting of Salvinia pockets and other weeds and would like to keep receiving feedback from the public.