The Teche-Vermilion Basins Project, located in South Central Louisiana, brings additional fresh surface water to the heart of Acadiana, an area that has seen rapid municipal development and agricultural/industrial expansion in recent years. The project supplies fresh water from the Atchafalaya River to Bayou Teche, the Vermilion River and connecting streams by means of a pumping station and a series of control structures and channels designed to divert, regulate and carry the flows.
The basins of Bayou Teche and the Vermilion River were historically supplied with fresh water from the Atchafalaya River via its connection with Bayou Courtableu. Construction of a system of flood protection levees paralleling the Atchafalaya River severed the connection. These levees are essential features of the comprehensive Mississippi River and Tributaries Project (MR&T), constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The MR&T Project was authorized in 1928 after the disastrous flood of 1927. The levees line the Atchafalya Basin Floodway system, which carries half of the flow in a major Mississippi River flood to the Gulf of Mexico, thereby protecting heavily populated and developed areas from the devastation of flooding. The Teche-Vermilion Project is designed to restore a fresh water supply to the areas affected by levee construction.
The existence of a reliable flood protection system stimulated municipal, industrial and agricultural development in the Teche-Vermilion Basins, but a deterioration in water quality resulted. Withdrawal of water from the river basin, along with discharges from various sources and a lack of flow, contributed to the water quality problem. An additional source of fresh water was also needed for irrigation of rice fields and crawfish ponds in Southwest Louisiana, which are subject to saltwater intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico. The Teche-Vermilion Project was designed to help restore water quality and quantity, protect the regional groundwater supply and to provide additional water for irrigation.
Congress authorized construction of the Teche-Vermilion Basins Project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans District in the Flood Control Act of 1966. As part of the MR&T Project, Teche-Vermilion was under the supervision of Major General William E. Read, President of the Mississippi River Commission. New Orleans District Engineer Colonel Robert C. Lee was in charge of construction, which began in July 1976, with a groundbreaking for the Bayou Fuselier weir. The completion of the pumping station in November 1982, made the project substantially finished and operable. The total project cost was $39.7 million. Upon its completion, the Teche-Vermilion Project became the property of the people of the New Orleans District, who manage and operate it.
Local participation in the project was created in 1969 by passage of Act #41 by Senator Edgar Mouton, thus creating “Teche-Vermilion Fresh Water District.” The District is comprised of Lafayette, Vermilion, St. Martin and Iberia parishes. The governing body consists of Commission members from each parish.
The act became law on June 19th, 1969, with the signatures of the President of the Senate, Speaker of the House and Governor of the State of Louisiana, John J. McKeithen.
The first meeting of the Board of Commissioners was held on August 25, 1969. The charter members appointed from each parish were L. Paul Begnaud of Lafayette Parish, Carroll J. Fuselier of St. Martin Parish, Dr. Harold Travasos of Vermilion Parish and Louis J. Walet of Iberia Parish. At a later date the legislature approved the appointment of an advisory member from St. Landry Parish.
A 1.5 mill property tax generates funds to operate the project. Through responsible operations, the commissioners have been able to levy a reduced millage and still save a little each year to establish a required reserve for major replacement and repair of all project features. The tax was first passed on November 21, 1970, and was successfully renewed by an overwhelming majority in 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010.