One of George Bayhi’s favorite things to do is swing in his front yard, admiring the lake and listening to the tigers in Death Valley on game days.
“I can hear the roar of Tiger Stadium if I’m not there,” Bayhi says.
“We call them the crown jewels of the city,” John Spain of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation (BRAF) says of the lakes. Spain is the Baton Rouge lakes project leader, and he understands the important role the lakes play in attracting prospective students to the city. “When you talk to the president of LSU, King Alexander, he says it’s the number one tool he has for recruiting people.”
While Bayhi and everyone alike admire the beauty of the lakes, what most people do not know is that you could walk across the lakes if you wanted. On average, the lakes are 2 1/2 feet deep. Because of that, the Baton Rouge lakes are dying.
Jonathan Puls of Gulf Engineers and Consultants (G.E.C.) has been working with the BRAF to test the lake waters and figure out the best solutions.
“The lake in general is too shallow,” Puls says. According to Puls, the primary cause for the eutrophication that is occurring is phosphorous levels. Phosphorous and nitrogen are two nutrients that are in materials like fertilizers and animal waste.
Regardless of the phosphorous levels, Puls says that it will be a more stable system if the lakes are deepened. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has suggested that the lakes get back to an average depth of 5 feet.
“I think if the lake was made a lot healthier by dredging it and doing something to preserve the banks from eroding, I think it would become more of an active asset,” Bayhi says.
Since 2014, the BRAF has been working on a master plan that put a $40 million price tag on the restoration of the lakes. However, Spain said that three-fourths of the bill can be accounted for.
Spain says that the Recreation of Park Commission can pay to restore the lake they own. “That’s exciting because that would let us start it,” Spain says.
Governor John Bel Edwards and other state officials have committed at least $5 million of state money to the project.
“So now we’re looking at about another $10 million that we need to find,” Spain says. BRAF is hoping to find the rest of the money by the end of this year or next year. After that, the engineering work will get started, putting the lakes on track to getting cleaned by 2020.
Once the inside of the lakes are healthy, the BRAF master plan seeks to make the areas around the lakes more inviting with better bike paths, more well-lit areas, a bird sanctuary, gardens, and common areas for concerts or community events.
“Anybody that looks for five seconds at the lakes understands that they are beautiful and need to be preserved,” Spain says.
GEC estimates that the lakes will need to be dredged every 10 years or so.
“I feel very privileged to be able to live here and maybe preserve this for another generation, the next generation,” Bayhi says.
It will be up to the future generation to both take advantage of all the lakes will have to offer and also keep them healthy.