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Spillway unlikely to be opened this year

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / February 4, 1998

NORCO – The Bonnet Carre Spillway, opened last year from March 17 toApril 12 to relieve the spring-swollen Mississippi River, will not likely beused this year.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in New Orleans ruled that the U.S. Army Corpsof Engineers acted correctly in opening the spillway last spring.

Corps spokesman John Hall said long-range forecasts indicate falling riverlevels. “The current predictions and upriver stages don’t indicate openingof the Spillway,” Hall said.

U.S. District Judge John McNamara dismissed a suit filed by Save OurWetlands which claimed the spillway opening was premature and theCorps had not first done a study of the opening on Lake Pontchartrainwater conditions.

Hall added of the decision, “This was a ringing affirmation of theintegrity and professionalism of the Corps of Engineers.”

River water this week stopped seeping through the pins of the spillway,which usually happens when the river reaches 12 feet. However, theCarrollton gauge outside Corps headquarters read 12.9 on Thursday and12.5 on Friday and was predicted to gradually reach 10.7 feet by Feb. 3.

The gauge at Reserve read 18.2 feet on Thursday and 17.5 on Friday andwas predicted to gradually reach 14.8 feet by Feb. 3.

The Corps also does internal 10-day and 30-day forecasts, Hall added.

Last spring, the spillway was opened for the first time in 14 years due toheavy rains in the Ohio River valley, which raised the river to recordlevels.

According to Gen. Robert Flowers, the spillway is opened to relievepressure on downriver levees and to protect lives and property. Other riskfactors, besides the river stages, include overall levee conditions, effectson navigation, effects on Lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne.

Last year, the spillway opening spawned a large algae bloom whichadversely affected the lake’s eco-system and also prompted the lawsuitfrom the environmentalist group.

The spillway is capable of diverting 250,000 cubic feet per second, or 1.8million gallons per second, 5.7 miles to Lake Pontchartrain. It consists of350 gates, each holding 20 timber pins, for a total of 7,000 needles.

It was built after the Great Flood of 1927 which killed more than 500people and drove 700,000 people from their homes along the river. A totalof 13 crevasses opened in the leveesAs a response, the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project of the 1928Flood Control Act authorized construction of the Bonnet Carre Spillway inthe early 1930s, and it was first used in 1937, heading off anotherpotentially-disastrous flood.

In 1872, the Bonnet Carre crevasse, or levee break, just upriver from thepresent spillway, pumped water 15-18 feet deep through a 600-to-700-foot wide break, sweeping everything before it to the lake. Near the samespot, in 1849, a 7,000-foot wide crevasse flowed for more than sixmonths.

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