The Bayou Vermilion, or the Vermilion River is you prefer, is a “consequent stream” or a “tidal river”, which means that the Vermilion was formed from the bottom up.
The river began life in the Vermilion Bay. Tides and other natural actions in the bay slowly eroded away the marshes and other features of the landscape as the embryonic river crept northward. This process brought the channel that would one day become the Vermilion River as far north as Lafayette. Much later a distributary (i.e. a waterway flowing out of another) of Bayou Teche made its way south and eventually linked up with the consequent stream forming a true north-south flowing river.
The Vermilion River today is still influenced by the tides of Vermilion Bay and Gulf of Mexico. Also during times of heavy rain events parts of the Vermilion will reverse itself and flow north (between Rotary Point and the Airport).
At one time the Red River followed what is now the Bayou Teche channel. The Vermilion River was then, and still is today, a distributary of this Red/Teche channel. The sediments which gave the Red River its name most likely gave the Vermilion (which means vivid red or reddish-orange) its name as well.
The Vermilion River Gets A New Life
Eventually Bayou Teche, by way of Bayou Courtableu (pronounced katabla), became a distributary of the Atchafalaya River. After the disastrous floods of 1927 the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System was created to relieve pressure on the Mississippi River. The levees built to create the floodway cut off the flow of fresh water to Bayou Teche and the Vermilion River.
The lack of fresh water from the Atchafalaya, and the economic growth in the Teche–Vermilion Basins meant the Teche and the Vermilion were fast becoming stagnant, polluted waterways in desperate need of a regular flushing. Also the growing numbers of rice farmers, who use large amounts of water, were clamoring for more fresh water.
To solve these problems the Teche-Vermilion Freshwater Project was undertaken by the Army Corp of Engineers. A pumping station was built on the Atchafalaya River near Krotz Springs with the capacity to pump up to 1,040 cubic feet of fresh water per second into Bayou Courtableu and eventually into the Vermilion River. The Teche-Vermilion Freshwater Project was constructed at an estimated cost of $39.7 million. The project began in 1976 and was completed in 1982.
The Vermilion River today has many other natural tributary bayous and coulees draining most of Lafayette Parish and parts of St. Landry and St. Martin as well.
Area Location & Identification of Corridor
The Vermilion River, some 65-70 miles in length, flows through three south-central Louisiana parishes. It is part of the Teche-Vermilion Basin. The river originates at Bayou Fusilier, which is fed by Bayou Teche in St. Landry Parish, winds its way through Lafayette Parish, and drains into the Vermilion Bay below Vermilion Parish.
The “Bayou Vermilion Corridor” in Lafayette Parish is approximately 33.5 miles long. It is frequently referred to as the “urban corridor” of 8 miles that passes through the city of Lafayette and the “rural corridor” of the remaining 25.5 miles.
In its early stage of development, the only point in the city where water transportation could be secured was at the site of the Pinhook Bridge. Consequently, property owners and businesses located there. In later years, steamboats ran on the bayou. However, low water levels and submerged logs hampered their ability to travel. Between 1840 and 1850, the Police Jury appropriated $4,000 to have obstructions in the river cleared from the Pinhook Bridge to Vermilion Bay.
The city of Lafayette developed adjacent to Bayou Vermilion. The importance of the Vermilion as a means of transportation and commerce declined with the introduction of the railroad and the paving of all highways leading into Lafayette in 1936.
The Army Corps of Engineers also had a significant impact on Bayou Vermilion. Dredging, completed in 1944, gave the bayou a depth of nine feet and a bottom width of 100 feet.
* Thanks to Jim Bradshaw for compiling the information on this page.*
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