The last 24 bays at the Bonnet Carre Spillway were closed Monday, ending the flow of Mississippi River water into Lake Pontchartrain, but south Louisiana could see more rising river water in the spring.
The National Weather Service is forecasting a drop in river levels from Baton Rouge to New Orleans over the coming weeks, but there are forecasts for a rainy spring, which could keep the river levels higher than normal for this time of year.
At least for the time being, the falling water levels along the Mississippi River prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to announce there is no longer a need for daily levee inspections. Instead, the Corps and local levee districts are scaling back to twice-weekly inspections, although more may be done as districts look for any damage.
“We are currently working to evaluate and prioritize any areas of the system that need to be addressed in the short term and long term,” said Ricky Boyett, chief of public affairs for the Corps’ New Orleans District. “We are defining short term as any work that needs to be done to ensure safe passage of a potential spring high-water event and long term as what will be needed to restore the system to preflood conditions.”
A lot of work was done on the levees after the flood of 2011, and it has held up well during the current high water, so the Corps doesn’t anticipate much repair work will be required, he wrote.
Although the water is falling, there isn’t enough information available yet to know how long the river will remain above 11 feet in New Orleans — the point at which the Corps starts its flood-fighting operations — or if another flood is coming, Boyett said.
“In the coming days, we should have more insight into what work needs to be done for the short-term river conditions,” he said.
Monica Salins, executive director of the Pontchartrain Levee District, said it appears water levels will plateau over the next two to four weeks, but there’s always a chance that more water could be on its way.
“I think it’s going to be a mode we’re just going to stay in,” Salins said. “We are coming off our high water at the beginning of our normal high-water time.”
On Monday morning, the river at New Orleans was at 14.67 feet and falling. The Corps and local levee districts will continue the twice-weekly levee inspections until the water falls below 11 feet.
The inspections have been going on since Dec. 14 from Baton Rouge south because of the large amount of water coming downstream from late-year heavy rains in the Midwest.
The extra water forced the opening of the Bonnet Carre on Jan. 10. After the crest of the water passed by, the Corps started closing spillway bays on Jan. 25 and finished the work Monday. At the peak, 210 of the 350 bays at the Bonnet Carre structure were opened.