Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will know by Saturday, and possibly sooner, whether the Bonnet Carré Spillway will need to be opened to prevent the Mississippi River waters from topping levees in New Orleans.
The river level in New Orleans was at 13.5 feet Monday and rising. The river is expected to crest at 17 feet by Saturday.
The Corps opens the Bonnet Carré when the river is flowing at 1.25 million cubic feet per second and expected to rise. The goal is to keep the river water levels from rising above 17 feet in New Orleans, where the levees protect up to 20 feet.
In Baton Rouge, the Mississippi River hit the 35-foot flood stage Monday. The river is expected to reach its 44-foot peak in the Capital City 10 days after the river crests in New Orleans.
In response to the rising water from heavy December rainfall upriver, the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority announced emergency regulations Monday that forbid vehicle and foot traffic on the river levees.
The rule helps give inspection teams, who are examining the levees daily, better access without having to work around recreational users and others trying to get a look at the river, according to the announcement. These restrictions include bike trails and walking paths and prohibits parking within 300 feet of the levee centerline. Restrictions announced in December, which forbid underground work within 1,500 feet of the levee, are still in place.
The state is asking for the public’s cooperation with the restriction, but the rule also allows severe penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation and up to $20,000 for a second violation. Enforcement is left up to the local levee district.
In Morgan City, the Atchafalaya River was at 5.1 feet but expected to continue rising to a top level of 9.5 feet by Jan. 23. At that level, buildings on the river side of the protection walls in Morgan City and Berwick will be under water and river traffic restrictions will be in place and enforced, according to the National Weather Service. During the 2011 flood, water reached 10.35 feet in Morgan City before starting to recede.
In time for the latest high water in rivers, people living in floodways of the Mississippi River also received their yearly notice as a reminder that the floodways could be opened if necessary.
The notice was sent by the Corps of Engineers to landowners, residents and people leasing property in the Bayou Des Glaises Loop, Old River Control Structure project area, West Atchafalaya Floodway, the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway and the Morganza Floodway.
The Morganza Floodway, which diverts water into the Atchafalaya River basin to help lower river levels at Baton Rouge and downriver, is always the second consideration and is opened when river levels reach 57 feet at the structure and there is a 10-day forecast river flow to reach 1.5 million cubic feet per second. A decision on that floodway will be made at some time after Saturday.
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