Morganza Spillway scheduled to be opened Thursday
With the rare opening of the Morganza Spillway scheduled for Thursday (June 6), there are many who are not sure how it will affect them. And, as the rescheduling of the opening from Sunday to Thursday demonstrates, those plans are subject to change or even cancellation. As of last report, the gates were set to be opened Thursday to allow for a gradual diverting of water into the floodway.
Jessie Lachney, a retired DOTD engineer living in Marksville, said opening the gates will have no negative impact on Brouillette and other communities along Red River in Avoyelles Parish.
“The water being released at Morganza does not go into the Atchafalaya River until below Morgan City,” Lachney said. “It will relieve pressure on the Mississippi, which will also mean less water being diverted into the upper Atchafalaya. That should actually help us in Avoyelles.”
Lachney said he was living in Brouillette in 1973 when the Morganza Spillway was opened for the first time.
“The water went down after that,” he said.
Opening the spillway could affect anyone planning to travel La. Hwy 1 to get to or from Baton Rouge and other points south. When the opening was planned for Sunday, the Pointe Coupee Sheriff's Office had issued a notice that La. Hwy 1 was to be closed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. due to the scheduled opening of the Morganza Spillway. Avoyelleans traveling from the Marksville/Cottonport area should travel along Hwy. 71 south through Odenburg to Hwy. 190. Northbound traffic should detour by taking U.S. 190 to Krotz Springs and then La. Hwy 105 to Simmesport. Southbound traffic should take La. Hwy 105 at Simmesport to Krotz Springs and then continue south on U.S. 190. The time period for the closure could be adjusted, PCSO noted.
The Morganza Spillway is part of a control system to keep the Mississippi River from changing course down the Atchafalaya. Opening the structure allows the Mississippi to partially take that course in a controlled manner.
An uncontrolled diversion, such as one caused by a levee breach, could be catastrophic to Baton Rouge, the Waterford nuclear power station, the chemical industry corridor known as “cancer alley” and New Orleans.
The spillway was constructed in 1954 to maintain a flow of 1.5 million cubic feet per second (cfs) below the floodway. The gates were first opened in 1973 and last opened in 2011. This will be the third time it will be opened.
The structure is 3,906 feet in length with 125 bays and is capable of diverting up to 600,000 cfs of water if necessary. The Mississippi is expected to exceed 62 feet at Red River Landing on Sunday (June 9).
Based on that projection, the Corps made the decision to open the structure three days prior to prevent it from being overtopped and to reduce stress on levees. The Corps plans to divert approximately 150,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) into the floodway to avoid overtopping of the structure.
In a news release, the Corps said it will “implement a gradual opening of the floodway to minimize impacts to wildlife, particularly the black bear population, and allow federal and state resource agencies to coordinate and implement rescue efforts for various species.”
The gradual release of water will allow the Corps to “limit elevations in the floodway by adding one foot of water per day for the first three days,” the release noted.
The Corps called the current flood fight “historic and unprecedented.” As of today (June 3), the flood fight will have been underway for 221 days. It is expected to surpass the 1973 event’s 225-day period to become the state’s longest flood fight, the Corps release said.
Another impact of the opening is on wildlife in the floodway.
In a news release, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries (LDWF) said animals “will seek higher ground and be displaced into habitat with which they may not be familiar.” LDWF urges people to be aware of wildlife forced into populated areas by floodwater from the spillway and to “minimize contact with animals while they seek temporary refuge from their flooded home range.”
LDWF says wild animals not posing a threat to humans should be left alone and should not be fed.
“Feeding wild animals will encourage those animals to remain in the vicinity of a new food source when they should be allowed to find natural habitat and food sources on their own,” the LDWF release advises.
People should avoid driving on roadways near flooded areas to reduce the likelihood of collisions with wildlife.
Of special concern is the impact on the black bear -- recently removed from the state and federal threatened species list but still considered in need of protection. Bears will move into other areas when high water covers its home territory.
For assistance with black bears that may be forced into populated areas by flood waters, call 1-337-262-2080.
Flood waters can also result in snakes and alligators showing up in human neighborhoods where they normally would not be found.
“Following the impact of flood waters, exercise extreme caution when salvaging possessions from flooded areas,” the LDWF said. “Wildlife, especially reptiles, may remain in flooded areas and pose a safety threat.”
Venomous snake species in Louisiana include the canebrake rattlesnake, the copperhead, the cottonmouth, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the harlequin coral snake, the pygmy rattlesnake and the Texas coral snake.
Lachney said the main concern for Red River at this time is to the north, not the south, as the water from storm-ravaged Oklahoma makes its way into the river.
“The Red River is falling pretty good right now, so we are in good shape to accept more water,” Lachney said.
However, he added, if the water from Oklahoma is more than expected, the river could get high again.
The Corps of Engineers reported it is monitoring weather forecasts and river conditions, as well as conducting around-the-clock flood fighting operations.
The Corps is “conducting daily levee inspections with local levee districts and coordinating with local, state and federal emergency responders to ensure safe passage of this high water event,” the news release assured.