Can Lake Pontchartrain Handle Another Threat? The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has made its way inland to Lake Pontchartrain. The salt water lake sits north of New Orleans and it's a place where people live, fish and enjoy the water. The lake was cleaned up a few decades ago and survived Hurricane Katrina. Now local authorities worry the oil spill will be more than the lake can handle.
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Can Lake Pontchartrain Handle Another Threat?

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Can Lake Pontchartrain Handle Another Threat?

Can Lake Pontchartrain Handle Another Threat?

Can Lake Pontchartrain Handle Another Threat?

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The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has made its way inland to Lake Pontchartrain. The salt water lake sits north of New Orleans and it's a place where people live, fish and enjoy the water. The lake was cleaned up a few decades ago and survived Hurricane Katrina. Now local authorities worry the oil spill will be more than the lake can handle.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's Julie Rose has more.

JULIE ROSE: But Anne Rheams says that's only been true in recent years.

ANNE RHEAMS: We had raw sewage - raw sewage running into the lake every day. It was polluted. You couldn't swim in it.

ROSE: Tens of millions of dollars later, it's a fisherman's dream.

ZACHARY GIBSON: Hold up, something just hit my line. Got it.

ROSE: Zachary Gibson makes a catch only minutes after casting from the shore of the lake.

GIBSON: Hard head catfish. He going back.

ROSE: But local authorities worry the oil spill will be more than the lake can handle. They're fighting it from a command center at an historic fort that was used to protect the lake during the Civil War.

KEVIN DAVIS: They always talk about history repeating itself, and here we are, so many years later, defending the lake again.

ROSE: Kevin Davis is president of Saint Tammany Parish on the lake's north side. Several miles off in the distance at the narrow sound where water flows in from the Gulf of Mexico, Davis points to what looks like a floating freight train.

DAVIS: Yeah, those are barges. See those funny look like smokestacks? Those are actually high pilings that have been driven to hold the barges in place.

ROSE: The barges go eight feet below the water, hopefully deep enough to block the oil - but Davis isn't taking the chance. Men are living in air-conditioned trailers out there, equipped with skimmers and vacuums.

DAVIS: You don't want to be fighting it here, right where we're at, then the lake's right behind us. So, what we did is we moved way out, about eight miles.

ROSE: Thirty miles of boom protect the shoreline and Davis plans to set up underwater fences made of a special material to screen out any oil that gets through. But early this week, tar balls started washing up against the barges, and David faces a formidable foe in the strong Gulf wind.

DAVIS: And it's blowing the wrong way, making me real nervous. If you see the direction, it's pushing it right into us.

ROSE: Unidentified Man: Come this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING)

ROSE: Pretty busy out there today?

WAYNE PERRY: Yes, ma'am.

ROSE: This is a fisherman named Wayne Perry.

PERRY: I'm sure it's going to get a lot crowdeder(ph) 'cause there's nowhere else to go. So, you gonna have all of them coming over this way.

ROSE: Julie Rose, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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