MORGAN CITY — Although the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers have crested, officials are still keeping a close eye on the levee system, an Army Corps of Engineers official said Wednesday.
“Vigilance on the levee is still going to be key, probably through the summer,” Col. Ed Fleming, commander of the corps’ New Orleans district, said during a news conference here after meeting with state, parish and levee officials.
Of immediate concern is the condition of the levees.
“These levees have been stressed for about 60 days,” Fleming said.
Water levels are still relatively high in many areas, so the full extent of repairs needed will not be known immediately, he said.
A mobile emergency operations center stationed here for the past month has been the central spot for bolstering levee and flood protection within the Atchafalaya River basin. Now, the center is going to be moved back to Mobile, Ala., Fleming said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Fleming said, he talked with officials about the work done by the corps, state and local agencies and levee boards on flood protection since the high water started. This work included placing sandbags of various sizes, driving sheet pile to seal off areas and sinking a barge in Bayou Chene to prevent flooding in sections of five parishes, from St. Mary to Terrebonne.
Although many areas along both rivers saw record-breaking water levels this spring, Fleming said, the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project system of levees and flood-control structures functioned the way it was designed to do.
In Louisiana, the corps opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway on May 9, and at the peak, 330 of the 350 bays were open. The corps started closing the bays on June 12 and finished closing all of them on June 20.
The corps started opening the Morganza spillway structure on May 15, opening a total of 17 of the 125 gates.
As of Wednesday, only one of those gates remained opened, with a flow of about 3,620 cubic feet per second, according to the corps.
“We didn’t see catastrophic failure or catastrophic flooding as many people predicted,” Fleming said.
Although initial estimates predicted extensive flooding in the Atchafalaya River basin, that impact was mitigated by a number of circumstances, including the drought, Fleming said.
The flooding estimate maps weren’t redone to reflect those changes, but Fleming said the corps kept local officials updated as the estimates changed.
“We acknowledge it (the flood estimate map) was a worst-case scenario,” Fleming said.
Paul Naquin, St. Mary Parish president, said the work done by the corps, the state and the levee district helped prevent anticipated widespread flooding in his parish.
He added that the barge structure that helped prevent water from the Atchafalaya River from circling back around to the east and flooding communities like Amelia and into Terrebonne Parish worked better than expected.
Fleming agreed: “It was a great example of federal, state and local partnership.”
The parish and others are working towards getting a permanent flood-prevention structure at Bayou Chene, but Fleming said there will need to be more study on that issue.