Saturday, May 14, 2011
Floods, Rivers, Swamps and Lakes
The photo above is from 1973 when the Morganza Spillway was opened last.
I live in Louisiana.
I live near a swamp. (Annie's seen it across the street in the woods). I love Louisiana and would never consider living anywhere else. I'm 3 miles from the Red River, less than 2 hours from the Mississippi River and about an hour from the Atchafalaya River. My sister, niece and their families had to evacuate their homes last week in anticipation of the opening of the Morganza Spillway today. My oldest daughter lives near Saline Lake which is already flooding. They're expecting flooding at their farm, too. Me, I'm on high ground and hopefully won't flood.
Please keep the people and wildlife of Central and South Louisiana in your hearts and prayers.
Here's a photo of the Mississippi River taken by a friend who lives in the City last week in New Orleans, already very high:
The Morganza Spillway opening (It was built in 1954 and has only been opened once, in 1973, so this is an historical event) will be streamed live in about one hour from now, at 3:00 p.m. Central Standard Time.
Below is an informative article from today's New York Times:
Morganza Spillway to Be Opened Today
MORGAN CITY, La. — The Army Corps of Engineers was expected to open a spillway near here Saturday afternoon to relieve the pressure bearing down on the levees brought by a Mississippi River that has swollen to epic proportions.
The corps hoped that by opening the Morganza spillway, a gated structure north of Baton Rouge, water from the river would be diverted from New Orleans and other areas downriver. A large area of southern Louisiana would be flooded instead.
At a news conference scheduled for 3:30 p.m. (Eastern time), the New Orleans district commander for the corps, Col. Ed Fleming, will explain the decision. About a half-hour later, the corps will open the spillway.
“It will be a slow, controlled opening,” Ken Holder, a spokesman for the corps told Reuters.
A live video stream from the Morganza spillway has been set up by the corps to show the flooding.
The decision to open the spillway, according to protocol, came from the president of the Mississippi River Commission, Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, directing Colonel Fleming “to be prepared to operate the Morganza Floodway within 24 hours.”
Just about everyone in southern Louisiana had come to expect this decision and had resigned themselves to the bitter but necessary trade-off behind it, though the official word on Friday ended days of uncertainty.
By design, the giant gated structure at Morganza is set to open, at least partly, when the Mississippi River reaches a flow rate of 1.5 million cubic feet per second at the Red River Landing, north of Baton Rouge. In a news release, the corps wrote: “Given current flow rate predictions, which are subject to change, the corps is anticipating opening the floodway to allow for up to 150,000 c.f.s. of water to pass through the structure at peak flow. The spillway will remain open until the river flow falls below 1.5 million c.f.s. and is projected to continue decreasing.”
The number of gates opened at the Morganza depends on how much water would need to be diverted to keep the Mississippi below that trigger flow rate. Allowing 150,000 cubic feet per second to pass through would tax only a fourth of the spillway’s capacity.
The spillway has been opened only once before, in 1973.
The corps will conduct a “slow opening” of the spillway, and once released the water will take days to pour out into the Atchafalaya River basin, filling up marshes, engorging bayous, submerging hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and seeping into thousands of homes. It will also test the network of federally and locally built levees that wall off towns and small Cajun communities throughout the basin. The water levels in the area will remain high for weeks.
According to maps released by the corps, these areas would be flooded to some degree whether the spillway was opened or not, given the extraordinary amount of water in the system.
There are about 2,500 people in the direct path of the spillway, and around 22,500 others who would be threatened by swollen backwaters. Gov. Bobby Jindal urged people remaining in these areas to begin evacuating.
Those in the spillway’s path were becoming resigned to the decision.
“While we understand the reasoning behind it, it’s still hard to accept,” said Charlene Guidry, 57, who lives on the river in the town of Butte La Rose. “It’s a no-brainer when you look at sacrificing our small community to save New Orleans and Baton Rogue. I’m not angry. I’ve resigned myself. I just hope the government steps up to the plate in a way they didn’t after Katrina.”
Here in Morgan City, a picturesque town of shrimpers and oil workers and the last big stop for the Atchafalaya before it empties into the gulf, all the talk was about river elevations and levees.
At the beginning of the month, said Tim Matte, the mayor, officials had warned that the river would rise to about eight feet, posing a minor problem for shipyards and fuel docks. Now the river was predicted to reach 12 feet, breaking a 38-year-old record, and the lake to swell to the height of some of the city’s levees.
“In 10 days we’ve gone from a minor inconvenience to a flood of historic proportions,” Mr. Matte said, minutes after being told by Senator Mary L. Landrieu’s office that the Morganza was to be opened.
Flood preparations were under way here for what officials estimate will be weeks of flood conditions: Members of the National Guard were constructing 20,000 feet of barriers to fortify and elevate levees along Lake Palourde, which sits on Morgan City’s back step. A barge was being sunk to block off a bayou, sending water out into marshland rather than into populated areas.
Thousands of sandbags were being filled in the hamlet of Stephensville, as residents were leaving for higher ground and debating where to leave their valuables, like one man’s antique-gun collection.
If the levees hold, Morgan City should be fine, people here say. If the levees fail, particularly those along the Atchafalaya, the only option is a full-scale evacuation from the city. “People ask me if I have faith in these levees,” Mr. Matte said. “Well, we wouldn’t live here if we didn’t.”
~Noam Cohen in New York contributed reporting