Help is on the way in the form of HB 347
A promise made by District 10 representative Gene Reynolds is one step closer to completion, as his bill to provide funding for the maintenance of Lake Bistineau passes the House and moves on to the Senate.
"We had to amend (HB 347) down to 10 percent and put a cap on it because of the budget crunch," Reynolds said. "For right now, yearly, we'll get $100,000 from mineral rights to go to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which is put in an account for Lake Bistineau specifically.
"This money can be used for spraying or marking channels or whatever they need to do with it," he continued. "There's a possibility we can get more money as time goes on – that was talked about a good bit in committee."
The bill passed through committee without any opposing votes, and received broad approval in the House, passing 82-12. Reynolds said the nay voters' only concern was HB 347 opening the floor to other "me too" legislation, but many others went in a different direction.
"We had some people that wanted to co-author – there's about 20-something co-authors that wanted to help out," Reynolds said. "So now it goes to the Senate, and all we've got to do is get through there and get the governor to sign it."
District 36 senator Robert Adley added his name to the bill in it's earliest stages and will champion it for its time in the Senate. He only anticipates one issue to confront it in the Senate.
"One more dedication of any kind is normally an issue," he said. "Approximately 75 percent of the state's operating budget is dedicated. Hence, in times of short budgets, another dedication means more cuts to higher education and health care – albeit the amount compared to overall budgets is nominal."
Adley said supporting the bill is important because Bistineau is a state legacy.
"Lake Bistineau was the first man-made lake in Louisiana and has added greatly to the economic development of the region," he said. "Hence, we should do all we can to maintain it. That is why I am also pushing for the funds to repair and change drainage on the lake that will give us better control of aquatic growth such as Salvinia."
Giant Salvinia, generally considered one of the world's most invasive plants, is a continuing problem for the lake. Reynolds said he hoped the HB 347 money would help further address it.
"It's very important. What I told the people was, there are two reasons you should vote for this," he said. "One, we have a huge state park facility on this lake and a lot of money has been invested there. The other reason is because Lake Bistineau is the poster child for Salvinia.
"A lot of research has gone into it," he continued. "LSU has done some research, and Wildlife and Fisheries – A lot of new methods are being tried out, and these new methods, as they become successful, will then be transferred over to other bodies of water."
LDWF Director of Inland Fisheries Mike Wood agreed that fighting Salvinia is the top priority for the money. He said the lessons learned have been expensive.
"Our efforts at this plant have been essentially somewhat of a learning experience," he said. "We've never been faced with a plant like this. Bistineau is in great shape right now mostly due to our continued efforts to just keep it from getting out of hand.
"It looked like a golf course a few years ago because it was all green with this terrible plant," Wood continued. "Efforts to treat that with herbicide are tremendously expensive – we spent well over $1 million in the past three years on Bistineau."
Other agencies were also instrumental in bringing the bill to the legislature.
Bistineau Task Force chairperson Billy Montgomery worked with Reynolds to draft the first copy of HB 347 and agrees that fighting Giant Salvinia is a top priority for the money.
"We've raised (private) money – we've asked the people to give money and they've done it to be able to keep the lake healthy," he said. "I just feel like we ought to get a little bit more out of the mineral rights from the bottom of the lake.
"The feds and the state have been in a lawsuit for several years over some of the mineral rights there, but they settled that in December," Montgomery said. "The state gets all of the mineral rights that are not owned by individuals."
He said that even though he doesn't personally live near the lake, he believes it is worth saving.
"We lost the lake (to Giant Salvinia) and we were very fortunate to get that lake back," Montgomery said. "We think we can keep the lake healthy and keep it so that people can use it.
"I don't own any land on Bistineau, it's just a big natural resource in the three parishes – a beautiful lake," he continued.
BTF is an intergovernmental organization formed from Webster, Bossier and Bienville parishes as well as Bodcau, Saline and Dorcheat Soil and Water Conservation Districts to fight the Giant Salvinia invasion and to serve as an advocate for Bistineau's public resources and private residents.