Corps takes wait-and-see approach to rainfall forecasts ahead of second spillway opening

Published 3:51 pm Thursday, May 23, 2019

With high water setting longevity records on the Mississippi River, officials say they may have to open a spillway west of Baton Rouge for the third time ever. A spillway north of New Orleans is already open.

If rain in the Arkansas and Missouri river valleys meets current forecasts, the Morganza Spillway might be opened partway to keep the Mississippi River from flowing over it and making it impossible to open further, Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Ricky Boyett said Thursday. The opening could be as early as June 2, he said.

“The rain we’re looking at has yet to fall. We’ll see what happens,” Boyett said.

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Both the Morganza and Bonnet Carre spillways were built after the great flood of 1927, which killed hundreds and left many more homeless. The Morganza Spillway was previously opened in 1973 and 2011.

The Mississippi River has set records for the number of days at flood stage at Baton Rouge and at Natchez, Mississippi, National Weather Service hydrologist Kai Roth said. The Ohio River has done the same at Cairo, Illinois, he said.

“At Baton Rouge, the old record was 135 days, set in 1927. It’s currently at 138 days above flood stage,” he said.

Natchez has been at flood stage for 139 days, eclipsing the previous record of 90 days set in 1973, and the Ohio at Cairo has been at flood stage for 105 days, up from 97 in 1973.

Two other Mississippi River towns are getting close to records, Roth said. At Red River Landing in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana, the record is 152 days in 1927.

“We’re sitting at 147 now. Five more days and we’ll be tying the record there,” Roth said.

He said the 95 consecutive days at flood stage at Greenville, Mississippi, also is close to a 1927 record of 115 days.