Louisiana agriculture officials have contacted the United States Corps of Engineers and the USDA to help find a solution to saltwater intrusion problems plaguing agricultural producers in southwestern Louisiana.

Mike Strain, Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner, said he has taking a lead role to help find long-term solutions to the issues caused by saltwater intrusion and asked USDA Under-Secretary Michael Scuse to help identify assistance options for agricultural producers in Vermilion, Jeff Davis, Calcasieu and Cameron parishes.

“Agriculture plays a major role in our state’s economy and we must do everything possible to ensure that our farmers, ranchers and aquaculture producers can stay solvent and productive,” Strain said. “Due to the extraordinary nature of the effects of natural disasters on our state’s agricultural producers, the future of some commodities could be in jeopardy without assistance from the federal government.

“We’re working closely with agricultural business interests as well as a number of government agencies, including local authorities, (Governor Bobby Jindal’s) office, federal offices and researchers from the LSU AgCenter, to get a firm understanding of all the issues relating to water resource problems in southwestern Louisiana.”

Drought and excessive heat have created significant difficulties for agricultural production and generated increased salinity levels in irrigation water supplies in the Mermentau River Basin.

“Vermilion, Cameron, Calcasieu and Jeff Davis producers have suffered nearly $34 million in losses due to drought and saltwater intrusion,” Strain said. “More than 450,000 acres experienced a significant negative yield impact. Vermilion Parish has declared a state of emergency because of a lack of freshwater in the basin. Unfortunately, climate data indicate that dry to drought conditions have intensified and will continue for some time.”

Conditions in the basin have been aggravated by damage to the Leland Bowman Lock on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway which is creating another access point for saltwater to flow into the Mermentau Basin.

Corps of Engineers officials reported that the locks are undergoing repair, Strain said. “However, the Mermentau Basin is not a closed system and saltwater can still migrate into the basin during periods of drought. That is why it is of paramount importance that we find a workable solution to maintain the Mermentau as a freshwater system and other water resource problems in southwestern Louisiana.”

Strain said possible solutions could include diverting more water from the Mississippi River through its flood control system to southwestern Louisiana or providing funding for agricultural producers to dig deepwater wells. “Everything is under discussion at this point. But as world population increases daily and puts more pressure on the American farmer, it is extremely important to do everything we can to keep our producers competitive in the market.”