The National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for St. Mary Parish and Morgan City, where the Atchafalaya River is expected to crest at 9½ feet in a few weeks, officials said.

The river is expected to crest Jan. 23, and that doesn’t include the extra water that would flow down the Atchafalaya if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opens the Morganza Spillway.

“There is a probability of even higher water levels, should the decision to open the structure be made,” St. Mary Parish Sheriff Mark Hebert said in a news release Tuesday.

“If you own a camp or other property in an area prone to flooding, you need to take steps to protect your property now,” Hebert said. “Do not wait until the last minute. Rising floodwater and strong currents will make traveling in those areas increasingly dangerous.”

Marine Division Lt. Ross Mire said camp and property owners could face hazardous travel if they try to operate boats in the rising water.

“Boaters will be contending with stronger currents that will be carrying more debris, as well as commercial vessel traffic that will be operating differently under high-water restrictions,” Mire said.

Hebert said deputies in the Marine and Patrol Division are working with the St. Mary Parish Levee District to monitor the 126 miles of levees in the parish.

The public is now prohibited from traveling on the levees, and those caught trespassing could face criminal penalties.