NATCHITOCHES, La. — A key message heard by more than 60 people gathered to discuss issues facing citizens in the Natchitoches, La., area is that policies on water use are important to economic development.
Sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the meeting at Northwestern State University provided a forum for participants to interact and exchange ideas with leading water management experts from Louisiana, according to Mimi Stoker, coordinator of the meeting and an LSU AgCenter watershed educator for the Red River and Sabine watersheds.
“The summit was planned to inform the public about the current water situation and the water projects being conducted in the state,” said Stoker.
State Rep. Taylor Townsend said navigation on the Red River through northwestern Louisiana holds many economic opportunities for the area.
As an outdoorsman, he emphasized the need for landowners to consider enrolling marginal cropland in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s environmental programs. The programs help landowners enhance conservation efforts and develop wildlife habitats.
Townsend also stressed that the state legislature depends on scientists and professionals to help write public policy that addresses water issues.
“Water is important in economic development,” said Bill Branch, LSU AgCenter water specialist. “It is needed to grow crops, process food commodities, support industrial growth, for navigation, household use and many other uses.
He pointed out that people enjoy living near water bodies — citing evidence of the migration to and homebuilding in areas like Toledo Bend Lake and Poverty Point Reservoir.
The water impoundments provide storage for water during heavy rainfall, thus reducing the impact of flooding, assisting in recharging aquifers and providing numerous recreational opportunities.
Three major aquifers are being overdrafted — even though 84 percent of the water used in Louisiana comes from surface water resources such as rivers, lakes and bayous according to the latest USGS survey.
“We have an abundant supply of surface water and need to find additional ways to use it,” said Branch. “This will help conserve ground water and provide additional resources to support economic growth.”
Surface water can be lifted from an impoundment for less than one-half the cost of lifting water 50 to 60 feet from a well, said Branch, and most community wells are much deeper than that.
The two largest agricultural industries in the state, forestry and poultry, need high-quality water to wash products and to use in manufacturing processes.
Water is important to the forest industry in the manufacturing of various products and in preserving raw products from harvest until being processed. The forest industry is the largest agricultural segment and the second largest manufacturing industry in the state. It returned more than $3.7 billion to the state in 2003.
Buck Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association, said more than 90 percent of the loggers and landowners use the best management practices adopted by the industry and approved by the state and federal agencies. These practices help landowners manage their forestry lands in an environmentally friendly way and improve the water quality.
“The roots of trees in the soil on forest lands help filter water as it moves across the land and improves the water quality,” he said.
Vandersteen said Louisiana also is first in cooperation on water quality and conservation issues. He said government leaders, industry representatives, universities and private landowners fully cooperated to develop the first Master Logger Program — which teaches forest professionals how to maximize both environmental conservation and profitability. Today, there are more than 1,200 master loggers in Louisiana.
The poultry industry is the second largest agricultural industry in the state and returned $1.2 billion last year.
Pilgrim’s Pride, which has plants in Natchitoches and Farmerville, uses water to wash birds and carry byproducts to other locations in the plant. It needs high-quality water to produce a high-quality food product.
Tim Wier, director of environmental engineering at Pilgrim’s Pride, said the company uses about 2.5 million gallons of water per day to operate the processing facilities. But the company has reduced the amount of water required to process a bird from 9 gallons to 4 gallons in the past 15 years and continues to work on further reductions.
In other comments during the summit, LSU AgCenter water quality specialist Fred Sanders discussed the Master Farmer Program, which is designed to teach producers of other commodities how to operate in the most environmentally friendly manner.
Sanders and other LSU AgCenter specialists said developing plans for water conservation and use are important to the state.
For more information on the use of water in Louisiana, contact Bill Branch at 225-578-6919 or [email protected]
John Chaney writes for the LSU AgCenter. (318–473–6605 or [email protected]).