When ‘Save Our Lake’ became a New Orleans rallying cry
Although generations of Louisianans had enjoyed Lake Pontchartrain, swimmers in the 1980s frequently met a closed lake. Due to years of sewage drainage and other dumping, contamination levels in the lake soared, making it unsafe for recreational use. Then, a group of Tulane and UNO professors offered a modest proposal, in the form of a report titled “To Restore Lake Pontchartrain.” That inspired citizens of the city to band together to form the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, an organization that would work to improve the quality of Lake Pontchartrain and waterways throughout the basin. The Foundation hit the ground running with its “Save Our Lake” campaign, highlighted by soon-ubiquitous bumper stickers carrying that memorable rallying cry.
Lake Pontchartrain has been thoroughly cleaned up in the last 28 years, thanks to the efforts of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. Wildlife including brown pelicans and dolphins have returned to the lake, as well as the occasional manatee. In 1990, the foundation found immediate success in banning the dredging of Rangia clam shells, which inhibited their colonization, affecting the entire ecosystem. It also backed an EPA mandate requiring New Orleans to update its sewage and drainage system. Over the next decade, bacteria levels in the lake dropped significantly, and by 2006 the majority of the lake was declared safe for recreation. The Foundation subsequently expanded its scope to include the Louisiana Gulf coast.
- The Lake Pontchartrain Basin is much more than just the lake. It is a giant ecological system stretching across 16 parishes in Louisiana and four counties in Mississippi, covering over 10,000 square miles of land. The rivers, bayous, swamps and forests in this region comprise the basin, which is home to thousands of species of plants and animals.
- Technically, Lake Pontchartrain isn’t really a lake. It is an estuary, which is defined as a brackish body of water that connects fresh and saltwater bodies of water. This important categorization serves as a reminder of how interconnected all of our water systems are, and how the work that the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation serves the health of all parts of South Louisiana.
- In 2016, the Foundation named Kristi Trail its new executive director. Under her leadership, the organization plans to continue working with federal state, and local organizations to improve water quality in streams that feed the lake. The Foundation is also working to re-open Pontchartrain Beach, which is behind UNO, for public swimming.
- Part of the foundation’s mission is to educate the public about the improved water quality in the lake, as well as to create opportunities for recreational activities around the lake. They found success when the Ochsner Ironman triathlon in New Orleans used the lake for the swimming portion course in 2010, which saw 2,500 athletes swimming in the lake. This October, the Ironman course will again include part of the lake.
- In 2002, the “Save Our Lake” campaign was declared a success, so the Foundation evolved its mission, developing a Comprehensive Habitat Management Plan intended to ensure sustainability of the basin. A science and engineering committee developed the plan, which was reviewed by a panel of coastal experts. As part of it, the Foundation’s preservation interests expanded to include the Louisiana Gulf coast.
- The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation does not just work to protect the ecosystem. It also has an interest in preserving important historical and cultural artifacts of the basin. After the New Canal Lighthouse at West End Boulevard was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Foundation worked to restore and reconstruct it. They completed the project in 2012. The Lighthouse beacon now shines every night.
New Orleans certainly has a unique culture, but it also has an equally unique ecological position. The Crescent City is surrounded by water, and the health of our lake and waterways is vital to the health of our city. <sub></sub>Protecting the environment around our city will help it to survive. The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation’s efforts have done more than maintain our environment. They have also reversed man-made damages, allowing locals to once again enjoy the lake and allowing the wildlife of the Sportsman’s Paradise to thrive.