Oil shows up in Louisiana’s iconic Lake Pontchar­train

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Richard Faus­set

AT­LANTA — Anne Rheams saw them this week float­ing in the wa­ter, small and scat­tered and about the size of sil­ver dol­lars. Some had washed up near boat docks, oth­ers near lake­side sub­di­vi­sions — tar balls, most likely from the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon oil spill.

This week, they drifted into Lake Pontchar­train, the oval body of wa­ter that hems in New Or­leans to the north and de­fines the city’s char­ac­ter al­most as much as the Mis­sis­sippi River a few miles south.

By Tues­day, cleanup crews had col­lected more than 1,020 pounds of tar balls and waste from the lake and the Rigo­lets, the strait con­nect­ing Pontchar­train to Lake Borgne and the broader Gulf of Mex­ico.

It was a rel­a­tively small smudge for a lake that is 630 square miles and one that won’t pose a di­rect pub­lic health prob­lem: New Or­leans gets its drink­ing wa­ter from the river.

But Rheams, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Lake Pontchar­train Basin Foun­da­tion, de­scribed the oc­ca­sion as a psy­cho­log­i­cal blow for New Or­leans.

The city is more than 100 miles from the shores of the Gulf, and though the worry and gloom about the spill pen­e­trated the metro area months ago, there was no oil — un­til now.

“Peo­ple love the lake, and they live around the lake,” Rheams said. “It’s re­ally bring­ing this closer to home for our folks in the basin.”

Crews have put 600 feet of boom at a choke point in the Rigo­lets to pre­vent more oil from mak­ing it to the lake, ac­cord­ing to the oil spill re­sponse head­quar­ters in New Or­leans.

On Mon­day, more than 20 skim­ming and de­con­tam­i­na­tion boats were work­ing to clean it up. But on Tues­day, bad weather kept the boats docked, and work­ers were left to try to skim the wa­ter from the shore, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Of­fi­cer Kelly Parker.

Tests on seafood taken from Lake Pontchar­train haven’t turned up any oil con­tam­i­na­tion, said Brian Lez­ina, a state bi­ol­o­gist. But he also noted the deep emo­tional at­tach­ment that many peo­ple in Louisiana have to the lake.

“You won’t hear songs about a lot of the marshes in south Louisiana, but you will hear songs about Lake Pontchar­train,” Lez­ina said.

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