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Ouachita River's Future Grows Unclear

Posted: Updated: Oct 3, 2012 06:24 PM

OUACHITA PARISH, LA. (KNOE 8 News) - The river that has been the source of the Sportsman's Paradise and the backbone of our drinking water and commerce, the Ouachita, now has a future as murky as its waters.

KNOE 8 News learned that Congress's federal funding for dredging, making waterways under the river for ships to sail across, has been dropping off year by year.

Those in charge of the dredging, the local Army Corps. of Engineers, Vicksburg District, saw it happen first-hand in 2011.

"We were down probably about half of what we suspected we needed," Chief of Navigation, Pat Chambers, said.

That's a hole that will take a lot of money to fill.

"Right at about $1.5 million," Chambers said.

A conference in Monroe will gather this week featuring the engineers and the Ouachita River Valley Association to figure out what cuts will be made.

"We have to cut back on our dredging, be very selective in the sites that we dredge," said Chambers.

Less dredging means less business going across the river which can lead to a vicious cycle for the cities surrounding it.

Less dredging means ships will have to be lighter.

"Reduce the amount of cargo that they can carry per barge," Chambers said.

"The tonnage determines the funding so it's a vicious circle," Vice President of the Ouachita River Valley Association, John Stringer, said.

River conservationists worry that the business that once crowded the river will go elsewhere.

"The users of the river are going to have a second thought about continuing to use it if it continues to damage their equipment because of the shallow river," Stringer said. "Our concern is, eventually, some of them will pull off the river."

The conference between river officials will continue this week, where they'll hope to reach a goal that keeps the dredging moving forward while finding some way to get more money.

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