Lake Pontchartrain ( ; , )
is a brackish estuary located in southeastern Louisiana. It is the second-largest saltwater lake in the United States, after the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and the
largest lake in Louisiana.
It covers an area of 630 square
miles (1630 square km) with an average depth of 12 to 14 feet
(about 4 meters). Some shipping channels are kept deeper through
. It is roughly oval in shape,
about 40 miles (64 km) wide and 24 miles (39 km) from
south to north. In descending order of area, the lake is
located in parts of St. Tammany, Orleans, Jefferson, St. John the
Baptist, St. Charles, and Tangipahoa parishes.
Pontchartrain is named for Louis Phélypeaux, comte de
Pontchartrain, the French Minister of
the Marine, Chancellor of France and
Finances during the reign of France's "Sun King," Louis XIV, for whom Louisiana is
Pontchartrain is not a true lake but an estuary connected to the Gulf of Mexico via the Rigolets strait (known locally as "the Rigolets") and Chef Menteur Pass into Lake Borgne, another large lagoon, and therefore experiences
small tidal changes.
It receives fresh
water from the Tangipahoa
Rivers, and from Bayou Lacombe
and Bayou Chinchuba
varies from negligible at the
northern cusp west of Mandeville up to nearly half the salinity of
at its eastern bulge near
Lake Maurepas, a true fresh water lake, connects with Lake
Pontchartrain on the west via Pass
Manchac. The Industrial Canal connects the Mississippi River with the lake at
Orleans. Bonnet Carré Spillway diverts water from the Mississippi into the lake
during times of river flooding.
was created 2,600 to 4,000 years ago as the evolving Mississippi
River Delta formed its southern and eastern shorelines with
name was Okwata
("Wide Water"). In 1699, French explorer
Pierre Le Moyne
d'Iberville renamed it Pontchartrain after Louis Phélypeaux, comte de
Human habitation of the region began at least 3,500 years ago, but
increased rapidly with the arrival of Europeans about 300 years
ago. The current population is over 1.5 million. The United States Geological
is monitoring the environmental effects of shoreline
, loss of wetlands
urban areas and agriculture, saltwater intrusion
, basin subsidence and
faulting, storms and sea-level
freshwater diversion from the Mississippi and other rivers.
North of Lake Pontchartrain is an area called the North Shore or
Northshore or the Northlake area. It is composed of cities such as Mandeville, Covington, Abita Springs, Madisonville, Lacombe, Slidell in Saint
Tammany Parish; Ponchatoula, Hammond, and Amite in Tangipahoa
Parish; and Franklinton and Bogalusa in Washington
These Northshore parishes form the eastern
. They constitute most
of the primary service area for Southeastern
Louisiana University in Hammond and are coterminous with ZIP codes beginning with "704" (Southeastern's five
digit ZIP code, for example, is 70402).
The Southshore areas, instead of being designated by that name, are
more likely to be referred to as either "Eastbank" or "Westbank"
depending on their position with respect to the general direction
of flow of the Mississippi River. Lake Ponchartrain forms the northern
boundary of the city of New Orleans, which is coterminous with Orleans
Parish, and its two largest suburbs Metairie and Kenner as well as the northern boundary of Jefferson Parish and Saint
Charles Parish and much of the northern and eastern boundaries of
Saint John the Baptist
New Orleans was established at a Native American portage
between the Mississippi River and Lake
Pontchartrain. The lake provides numerous recreational activities
for people in New Orleans and is also home to the Southern Yacht Club
. In the 1920s the
Canal in the eastern part of the city opened, providing a
direct navigable water connection, with locks, between the Mississippi River and the
In the same decade, a project dredging new land from
the lake shore behind a new concrete floodwall began; this would
result in an expansion of the city into the former swamp between
Metairie/Gentilly Ridges and the lakefront. The Lake
Pontchartrain Causeway was constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, connecting
New Orleans (by way of Metairie) with Mandeville and bisecting the
lake in a north-northeast line.
At 24 miles (39 km),
the Causeway is the longest bridge over a body of water in the
, a storm surge
can build up in Lake Pontchartrain.
Wind pushes water into the lake from the Gulf of Mexico as a
hurricane approaches from the south, and from there it can spill
into New Orleans.
hurricane in September, 1947 flooded much of Metairie,
Louisiana, much of which is slightly below sea level due to
land subsidence after marshland was drained.
storm, hurricane-protection levees
along Lake Pontchartrain's south shore to protect New Orleans and
nearby communities. A storm surge of
10 feet (3 m) from Hurricane Betsy
overwhelmed some levees in Eastern
New Orleans in 1965 (while storm surge funneled in by the
Mississippi River Gulf Outlet
Canal and a levee failure flooded most of the Lower 9th
After this the levees encircling the city
and outlying parishes
were raised to heights
of 14 to 23 feet (4-7 m). Due to cost concerns, the levees were
built to protect against only a Category 3 hurricane; however, some
of the levees initially withstood the Category 5 storm surge of
which only slowed to Category 3 winds within hours of landfall (due
to a last-minute eyewall
using computer modeling at Louisiana State University subsequent to Hurricane Katrina have concluded that the
levees were never topped but rather faulty design, inadequate
construction, or some combination of the two were responsible for
the flooding of most of New Orleans: some canal walls leaked
underneath because the wall foundations were not deep enough in
peat-subsoil to withstand the pressure of higher
fully fund an upgrade requested during the 1990s by the Army Corps of Engineers
, and funding
was cut in 2003-04 despite a 2001 study by the Federal Emergency Management
warning that a hurricane in New Orleans was one of the
country’s three most likely disasters. Raising and reinforcing the
levees to resist a Category 5 hurricane might take 25 years to
complete. Some estimates place the cost at $25 billion.
When Hurricane Katrina
Category 5 in 2005, some experts predicted that the levee system
might fail completely if the storm passed close to the city.
Katrina weakened to a Category 3 before making landfall on August
29 (with only Category 1-2 strength winds in New Orleans on the
weaker side of the eye of the hurricane), the outlying New Orleans East along south Lake
Pontchartrain was in the eyewall with winds, preceding the eye,
nearly as strong as Bay St. Louis, MS. Canals near Chalmette began leaking at 8 am, and some levees/canals,
designed to withstand Category 3 storms, suffered multiple breaks
the following day (see Effect of Hurricane
Katrina on New Orleans), flooding 80% of the city.
of the Industrial
Canal were breached by storm
surge via the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, while the 17th Street
Canal and London Avenue
Canal experienced catastrophic breaches, even though water
levels never topped their flood walls. Louisiana
State University experts presented evidence that some of these
structures might have had design flaws or faulty
There are indications that the soft earth and peat
underlying canal walls may have given way. In the
weeks before Katrina, tests of salinity
pools near canals showed them to be
lake water, not fresh water
mains. The 5.5 mile (9 km) long I-10 Twin
Span Bridge heading northeast between New Orleans and Slidell
The shorter Fort
Bridge crossing the outlet to Lake Borgne remained
Much of the northern sector of the suburban areas of Metairie and
Kenner was flooded with up to 2-3 feet of water. In this area,
flooding was not the result of levee overtopping, but was due to a
decision by the governmental administration of Jefferson Parish to
abandon the levee-aligned drainage pumping stations. This resulted
in the reverse flow of lake water through the pumping stations into
drainage canals which subsequently overflowed, causing extensive
flooding of the area between I-10 and the lakefront. When the pump
operators were returned to their stations, water was drained out of
Metairie and Kenner in less than a day, in some cases, only a few
On September 5, 2005, the Army Corps of Engineers started to fix
levee breaches by dropping huge sandbags from Chinook helicopters
. The London Avenue
Canal and Industrial Canal were blocked at the lake as permanent
repairs started. On September 6
Corps began pumping flood water back into the lake after seven days
in the streets of New Orleans. Because it was fouled with dead
animals, sewage, heavy metals
, and other dangerous
substances, the Army Corps worked with the U.S.
and Louisiana Department of Environmental
Quality (LDEQ) to avoid major contamination and eutrophication
of the lake.
Aerial photography suggests that 25 billion gallons (95 bn liters)
of water covered New Orleans as of September 2, which equals about
2% of Lake Pontchartrain's volume. Due to a lack of electricity,
the city was unable to treat the water before pumping it into the
lake. It is unclear how long the pollution
will persist and what its environmental damage to the lake will be,
or the hazards from the mold
mud remaining in the city.
On September 24, 2005, Hurricane Rita
did not breach the temporary repairs in the main part of the city,
but the repair on the Industrial Canal wall in the lower 9th ward
was breached, allowing about of water back into that
- The traditional song "On the Banks of the Pontchartrain" has
been recorded by such artists as Hank
Williams, George Jones, Amos Garrett, D.L.
Menard, and Doug
- "The Lakes of Pontchartrain", a variation on the above
traditional song, was arranged and recorded by Irish singer
Paul Brady as well as Christy Moore, both solo and with Planxty, The Be Good
Tanyas and also Jim Smoak & The
- Nanci Griffith performs "Banks of
the Pontchartrain", a song that she composed, on her album
The Last of the True
- "Pontchartrain" is the title of a song on the album
Dreaming Through the
Noise by Vienna Teng.
- "Pontchartrain" is the title of a song composed and recorded by
Jelly Roll Morton.
the 2004 video game James Bond 007: Everything
or Nothing, one mission involves a chase across the lake
on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.
- The lake is also featured in the 1993 PC game Gabriel Knight: Sins of the
- It is featured in the 2003 film The Haunted Mansion, to
identify the area's location.
- The lake is mentioned in a verse of "Heart of the Night,"
American country rockers Poco's ode to New
Orleans, from their album Legend.
- In the Jimmy Buffett song, "Breath
In, Breathe Out, Move On" from his album Take the Weather with You,
Pontchartrain is mentioned twice in reference to flooding and
- Sonny Landreth's song "Soldier of
Fortune" from his album Outward Bound mentions the
- George Strait mentions the Pontchartrain several times in his
song "Adalida" from his album Lead
- The Lost Trailers have a song
"Fire on the Pontchartrain" from their album Welcome to the Woods.
- Lake Pontchartrain is mentioned in the song "Long Overdue for a
Miracle" in the musical Whistle Down the
- Lake Pontchartrain is briefly mentioned in the song "Feels Like
Rain", by John Hiatt from his album
Slow Turning, and by Buddy Guy from his album Feels Like
- Lake Pontchartrain is mentioned in the Lucinda Williams songs "Lake Charles" from
her album Car Wheels on
a Gravel Road, and "Crescent City" from Lucinda Williams.
- Lake Pontchartrain is mentioned repeatedly in the novel
Heart Shaped Box by Joe
- "Lake Pontchartrain" is a song in the album A Good
Life from Joe Grushecky in
- "Lake Pontchartrain" is the title of a song by the band
Ludo, from their album You're Awful, I Love You. The
song describes a man who finds himself by the lake with two of his
friends, only to be confronted by a scary figure, spooky voices
coming from within the lake, and to witness the lake engulf his
friends, because they ate the crawfish.
- Sheryl Crow's song "Love Is Free" from her album Detours mentions the Pontchartrain.
- Aaron Watson mentions Lake
Pontchartrain in his song "Heaven Help the Heart" from his album
- Blue Mountain mentions Lake
Pontchartrain in their song "Lakeside" from their album
Tales of a
- The song "Broke Down" by Slaid
Cleaves from his album Broke Down mentions Lake
Pontchartrain in the second verse.
- Blanche DuBois and Harold Mitchell visit Pontchartrain Beach amusement park at
the beginning of Scene Six in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named
- Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt see the sunrise on the shore of Lake
Pontchartrain in "The Curious Case of
- The song "Death and Hell" from the album The Road Goes on
Forever by the country supergroup The Highwaymen,
featuring the late Johnny Cash and
Waylon Jennings, mentions the
- Eastern Air Lines
Flight 304 crashed into the lake on February 25, 1964,
resulting in the deaths of 51 passengers and 7 crew. Very little of
plane and passengers was ever able to be recovered after the
- September 15, 1978- Six year old, Benjamin Daly died when a
private plane his parents had chartered crashed into the lake. His
parents survived but Benjamin and the pilot perished.
- In 1985, a decomposing woman's body was found by two fishermen.
The cause of death was homicide by asphixia. She was not identified
and no leads were ever identified in the case.
- New England Patriots
defensive end Marquise Hill was found
dead in Lake Pontchartrain on May 28, 2007.
- Lake Pontchartrain, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7385-4392-5