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River levels high, but Spillway won’t be opened

Kyle Barnett -   Jun 06, 2013

River levels high, but Spillway won’t be opened

Only months after some of the lowest river levels ever were recorded for the Mississippi, the river is now experiencing above average levels for this time of year.

The high river levels are largely due to flooding in the Midwest which has resulted in barge locks on the upper Mississippi River being closed and slowing barge traffic.

Those high river levels are very clear to see at the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Norco where the river has backed up into recreation areas and over Spillway Road.

Rachel Rodi, public affairs specialist with the Corps of Engineers New Orleans District, said due to the high waters the Corps is currently conducting phase 1 flood inspections.

"When the river reaches 11 feet every year we have crews along with the levee district to monitor the levee districts to see if anything pops up. We are still in a phase 1 flood fight right now," she said.

During phase 1 flood inspections, crews examine river levees to make sure they can withstand high waters.

As of late last week, the river crested at 13.9 feet, which is a little over a foot below the more aggressive inspections that would be necessitated in phase 2.

River levels would have to increase drastically if there were any possibility of opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway to release river water into Lake Pontchartrain as was done most recently in 1997, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Rodi said although the river levels are higher than usual this year they cannot see a scenario where the spillway would have to be opened.

"When the Carrollton gauge reaches 17 feet we open the spillway," she said. "We are at 14 now and are decreasing. We expect it to continue to decrease."

Rodi said despite an increase in spillway openings in recent years, the Corps has not noticed much of a trend in increased river levels occurring more often.

"If you look at it from our first opening we’re still around every eight years, whereas it used to be every ten years," she said.

Even though severe thunderstorms continue to dump torrential rains on the Mississippi and its tributaries, those waters alone are not expected to cause further increases to the river level.

"There are storms across the country now, especially in Arkansas and Oklahoma, that will bring water down our way. When it rains up there it takes a while to get down here," Rodi said. "That may only slightly decrease the rate of the drop or make the fall slower than was originally forecasted."

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