2011 Atchafalaya River crest was 10.35 feet

By: By GEOFFREY STOUTE

MORGAN CITY — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the official crest in Morgan City during this year’s high water season was 10.35 feet, the second highest ever recorded here and just shy of the 10.53 mark set in 1973.

Col. Ed Fleming, commander of the Corps’ New Orleans District, made the announcement during a press conference at the Morgan City Municipal Auditorium Wednesday following a meeting with local government and other officials to discuss the 2011 flood fight.

While all crests have taken place and river levels now are falling, Fleming said river levels still are abnormally high.

“We’re still seeing water along the levees that in some cases are still above the record levels, so we need to be paying particular attention to the levees,” he said. “Vigilance on the levees is still going to be key, probably through the summer.”

He said the Corps anticipates finding some damage on the Mississippi River and Tributaries system levees, possibly cracks or slides or boils as the water continues to fall.

“These levees have been stressed for the better part of the last 60 days,” he said.

As for the affects of the flooding, which will include the removal of sediment buildup in the Atchafalaya and Mississippi rivers, Fleming said the Corps is using the money it has and is hoping it can secure some emergency funding for the work. He also said the Corps would be looking to its budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, for help.

Looking forward, Fleming said the Corps does not anticipate any affects from the Missouri River flooding occurring in the northern United States as well as the Midwest to affect south Louisiana. He said that the Mississippi River receives much of its water from the Ohio River. That amount, he said, is probably twice the amount the Mississippi receives from the Missouri River.

He also said the Corps is prepared for hurricane season, too.

During the flood fight, 22 of Morgan City’s 27 floodgates were closed, while Morgan City and Berwick cut off access to businesses on the unprotected side of Front and Bellevue Front streets.

Berwick Bay traffic also was cut off temporarily as floodwaters submerged the docks, while traffic was halted on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway’s Alternate Route.

During his remarks, Fleming noted that the Mississippi and Atchafalaya protection systems worked as designed, despite the enormous amount of stress placed on them.

“We saw record flows coming through, and we were not only able to flood-fight where we needed to flood-fight but we were also able to operate this system as it was designed,” he said. “I think although many folks were impacted and many folks did have some concerns with the way it was put in place, we didn’t see catastrophic failure and we didn’t see catastrophic flooding like many people were predicting.”

Currently, the Bonne Carre Spillway, designed to divert water flow away from the Mississippi River before it reaches New Orleans in order to take pressure off the Big Easy’s levee system, has been closed.

“We do see a little flow through the needles, which is normal at these stages of the river,” Fleming said.

He said one gate remains open at the Morganza Spillway and will not be shut until the forebay, where water gathers before it passes through the spillway, is drained.

Because the forebay is elevated higher than the rest of Mississippi in that area, once river levels dip below a certain point, water no longer will be able to flow into that forebay.

Fleming also addressed the Corps’ inundation maps that were released to help local leaders make decisions about their communities. Fleming explained that the data included in them were those based on the forecast provided to the Corps by the National Weather Service at that particular time. The maps, he said, were identified as what could happen on a worse case scenario.

“That was a snapshot in time,” he said.

Fleming said among the reasons the inundation maps didn’t come to fruition was drought-like conditions present in the Morganza’s tailbay. The tailbay soaked up the water quickly, while water stayed on the east side of the Atchafalaya River’s guide levees as it passed through the Bayou Sorrel area, meaning the impact wasn’t as great on Butte La Rose.

“There are a lot of other reasons why we didn’t see those inundations that we predicted occur, and that was a good thing,” he said.

Success also was noted in the barge that was sunk in Bayou Chene, that, along with rock and sheet-piling, stopped water flow into backwater areas of St. Mary, St. Martin, Assumption, Terrebonne and Iberville parishes.

“It was a great example of local, state and federal partnerships,” Fleming said of the barge. “We all played a part in this.”

St. Mary Parish President Paul Naquin Jr. also lauded the efforts of those who helped out in the flood fight as well as the success of the Bayou Chene barge.

While local officials thought the barge would hold 1 to 2 feet of water away from the backwater areas, he said it held more than 3 feet at one point.

The St. Mary Parish Levee District has identified a permanent control structure in Bayou Chene to stop backwater flooding in future events, and Fleming said the results of this barge structure, which he said was successful, would have to be examined more closely as well as factoring in more conditions.

“Now, we need to be able to look at that (backwater protection) over a range of events, not just in one particular event,” Fleming said. “We’re in a drought situation. If we weren’t in a drought, would that have made a difference? If we would have had some rain, would that have made a difference, because once you close that bayou off, you don’t have the drainage that you think you might need.”

He said the Corps would continue to work with the state and parish on the project.

Fleming also said that the Corps’ Deployable Tactical Operations System mobile command unit would be leaving Morgan City and operations would be returning to the Corps’ New Orleans office.

He also said the Corps is prepared for hurricane season, despite the high water in south Louisiana.

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