History of the Pontchartrain Basin
Lake Pontchartrain began forming about 5,000 years ago when North American glacier melts caused the Mississippi River to swell and shift to the east. The river began depositing its sediments into the Gulf of Mexico, creating a broad delta which would later become Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines Parishes.
The delta grew slowly eastward over 2,000 years and eventually separated a large body of water from the Gulf. Native Americans called this body of water 'Okwata' meaning 'wide water', and they dwelled peacefully on its shores for centuries.
In 1699, Native Americans led the French settler, Pierre La Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, on a journey through the area's Lakes and bayous. Iberville marveled at Okwata and renamed it Lake Pontchartrain, after the French Minister of the Marine at the time, the Comte de Pontchartrain.
Lake Pontchartrain is just one part of a vast ecological system called the Pontchartrain Basin. Known for its slow flowing rivers and bayous, tranquil swamps, and lush hardwood forests, the Basin provides essential habitat for countless species of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, and plants.
The famous wetlands and marshes that surround the Basin's waters provide a beautiful setting for wildlife and are the heart of the region's commercial and recreational fisheries.
The Pontchartrain Basin is also the center of southeastern Louisiana's unique cultural heritage. With almost 2.1 million residents, including rural farming communities, metropolitan New Orleans, and the fishing, shrimping, crabbing, and oyster industries, the area is brimming with a diversity of people bound by a common interest: the desire for clean and healthy waters in the Pontchartrain Basin.
Our Basin comprises over 10,000 square miles of land in 16 Louisiana parishes and 4 Mississippi counties. All of these lands drain into rivers and bayous, which empty into Lake Pontchartrain and its connecting sister Lakes, Maurepas and Borgne.
The Pontchartrain Basin is bounded to the north by the Louisiana-Mississippi border, to the west by Thompson Creek and the Mississippi River, by the Breton and Chandeleur Sounds and Chandeleur Islands to the south, and to the east by the Pearl River. The Basin is made up of the following parishes: Ascension, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Jefferson, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Washington. The Lake also exchanges water with the Gulf of Mexico through the Rigolets and Chef Mentuer Passes. This connection to the salt waters of the Gulf makes the Lake an estuarine system - one of the largest in the nation.
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|Geologic History |
|200 mya- South America, Africa, and North America, part of Pangean supercontinent, pulled apart creating a basin that has evolved into the present day Gulf of Mexico. || |
|180 mya A precursor to the Mississippi River began depositing sediment in the north central Gulf of Mexico. |
|146-92 mya Louisiana and a large portion of North America were covered by a huge inland sea. || |
|20,000 years ago sea level was 360 feet lower and many small rivers were discharging sediment at the outer edge of the continental shelf. |
|4,000 years ago sea level rose and the Pine Island barrier system developed extending from Hancock County, Mississippi to New Orleans. || |
|3,000 years ago the St. Bernard delta of the Mississippi River built out of the alluvial valley onto the continental shelf creating what is now the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain. || |
|2,000 years ago, the Mississippi River diverted to the Lafourche delta. The natural transgression of the St. Bernard delta caused coastal land loss and the formation of the Chandeleur Islands. || |
|1,000 years ago the Mississippi River diverted to the modern Birdfoot delta complex in the southern region of the Basin. || |
|Human History |
|12000 ya The first people came to inhabit the northern part of our Basin. |
|4000 ya Native American communities along the Lower Mississippi began building huge earthen mounds. |
|Pre –1682 Many Native American tribes live in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, including such tribes as the Bayougoula, Mougoulacha, Chitimacha, Oumas, Tangipahoa, Colapissa, and Quinipissa Accalopissa. |
|1539: Epidemics began ravaging Native American societies due to the introduction of smallpox, malaria, typhoid fever, measles, syphilis, and tuberculosis by European explorers. |
|1682: Explorers from France arrive to explore the Lower Mississippi River Valley. || |
|1699: Iberville discovers and names Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas for the French. || |
|1718: Bienville founds the City of New Orleans at present site because of easy access to the Mississippi River through Lake Pontchartrain and Bayou St. John. || |
|1763: After a short revolution, the Spanish government takes over the rule of most of Louisiana. |
|1803: Louisiana becomes part of the United States after the Louisiana Purchase. || |
|1820—l840s: Most Native Americans east of the Mississippi River were relocated to the West. The Trail of Tears occurred during this period. |
|1831-1838: The New Basin Canal is built by Irish and German immigrants. |
|1834: The Marigny Plantation in New Orleans gives way to the neighborhood of Faubourg Marigny so Bernard de Marigny moves across the Lake to Fontainbleau, the family plantation on the north shore. He establishes the fashionable resort town of Mandeville. |
|1862 – 1865 Union Troop occupied New Orleans during the civil war in order to control the Mississippi River. || |
|1924: The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, or the Industrial Canal is opened, linking the Mississippi River with the Lake. |
|1928: Pontchartrain Beach opens where Lake Vista is today. || |
|1931: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers builds the Bonnet Carré Spillway. |
|1939: Pontchartrain Beach is moved to Milneburg. |
|During World War II, the land near Lake Pontchartrain, where the University of New Orleans stands today, was used by Higgins Boats to build wartime vessels. || |
|1956-1964: Lincoln Beach Amusement Park was opened in 1956 and was a popular attraction for African Americans in New Orleans. It closed in 1964. Currently the City of New Orleans has plans to redevelop the site. |
|1963: The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) is opened to provide a short cut for shipping from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans. || |
|1972: Pontchartrain Beach swimming area closes due to unacceptable levels of pollution which threaten the health of bathers. |
|1979: "No swimming" advisories are posted along the Lake's south shore in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes by the Department of Health and Hospitals. || |
|1983: Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park closes permanently. |
|1989: The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) is established to restore the health of the lake and its rivers and to protect the natural habitat of the Basin. The SAVE OUR LAKE campaign began. || |
|1990: Shell dredging in Lake Pontchartrain is banned, first Back to the Beach Festival held. |
|1991: Oil and gas moratorium placed on new drilling in Lake Pontchartrain. |
|1992: LPBF finalizes the Comprehensive Management Plan for the rest of the basin. |
|1993: LPBF begins water monitoring of Lake Pontchartrain using volunteers. || |
|1998: LPBF begins work with the University of New Orleans and Tulane University on a study to show where storm water goes as it enters the lake. |
|2001: LPBF begins Recreational Water Monitoring Program in the lake. |
|2002: LPBF begins sub-basin pollution source tracking program to track and correct sources of pollution on North Shore Rivers. || |
|2004: LPBF begins partnership in Ashley Marie Kelly Swim Safety Program to teach the citizenry to swim. |
2005: LPBF begins the Coastal Sustainability Program, creates the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy and Hurricane Katrina strikes. Hurricane Katrina forever changes the Gulf Coast. LPBF creates the Pontchartrain Coastal Lines of Defense Program. The SAVE OUR COAST campaign began.
2006: LPBF signs the lease to restore the New Canal Lighthouse as a museum and education center.
Lake Pontchartrain is removed from the Department of Environmental Quality's Impaired Waterbodies list.
|2008: Tangipahoa, Bogue Falaya and Tchefuncta Rivers are removed from the Department of Environmental Quality's Impaired Waterbodies list for fecal coliform. |
|2009: Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MR-GO) is closed, last of 9 artificial reefs are placed in Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana Coastal Lines of Defense Program (pdf) is designed. || |
|2012: LPBF breaks ground on the New Canal Lighthouse and the light is re-lit in the lighthouse cupola on September 26, 2012. || |
2013: LPBF opens the New Canal Lighthouse Museum and Education Center facility to the public on April 20, 2013.
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