Bob Ice and Bob McIntyre
Dear Bob and Bob,
Thank you for your efforts to save our city and its jazz traditions. I am more than happy to help in any way. If there are readers who wish to become involved in the restoration of the Halfway House, the New Orleans Jazz Restoration Society can use your help.
Please settle a debate regarding our lake. I've been told by a couple of people that Lake Pontchartrain is man-made. I say that it's not true.
I don't want to insult your friends, so I'll just believe that they are pulling your leg. I can guarantee you and your friends that Lake Pontchartrain has been here a very long time.
The geologic history of the lake actually began about 20,000 years ago, when glaciers covered most of the continent of North America. Gradually, glaciers melted, water levels rose and eventually the lake was created between 2,600 and 4,000 years ago as the evolving Mississippi River Delta formed its southern and eastern shorelines with alluvial deposits.
For centuries, Native Americans lived along the shores, and the Choctaw name for the lake was Okwata, meaning wide water. In 1699, French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville gave it a new name to honor Louis Phelypeaux, comte de Pontchartrain, the French Minister of the Marine and Minister of Finance during the reign of France's "Sun King" Louis XIV. Of course, the entire state was named for the king.
The lake is about 40 miles long and 24 miles wide with an area of about 630 square miles, and the average depth is 12 to 14 feet. It is a brackish lake and the second-largest saltwater lake in the United States after the Great Salt Lake in Utah.
Lake Pontchartrain is connected with two other lakes -- also not man-made. On the eastern side it connects with the Gulf of Mexico via the Rigolets strait and Chef Menteur Pass into Lake Borne, which causes it to experience small tidal changes. Fresh water comes into the lake from the Tangipahoa, Tchefuncte, Tickfaw, Amite, and Bogue Falaya rivers as well as from Bayou Lacombe. On the western side, the lake connects with Lake Maurepas via Pass Manchac. This smaller lake was discovered at the same time as Pontchartrain and named in honor of Jerome Phelypeaux, comte de Maurepas, the son of Louis Phelypeaux.
While man did not create Lake Pontchartrain, we have certainly had a very large hand in its pollution. Today, however, we have the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, a dedicated group of folks working to restore and preserve the entire Lake Pontchartrain Basin.