Atchafalaya spillway camps in danger of flooding

Deidre Cruse

Iberville Parish Emergency Preparedness Director Laurie Doiron on Friday (May 6) urged owners of camps in the Atchafalaya spillway to remove mattresses and other goods that would be threatened by floodwaters as high Mississippi River water moves toward the area.

“We're expecting those camps to flood,” Doiron said. “...We have signs going up at the boat ramps warning people that extremely high water is expected.”

The Mississippi is expected to crest at 47.5 feet in Baton Rouge on May 23 or 24, with high waters lasting seven to 10 days, the director said. Since there is not a gauge in Iberville Parish, the Baton Rouge flood stages are applied locally, she said.

Mississippi River levees can hold up to 50 or 51 feet of water,  Doiron said, but the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers anticipates opening the Morganza Spillway to reduce the Mississippi crest to around 44 feet.

The Corps already plans to open the Bonne Carre Spillway near New Orleans as a protective measure, but had not made a final decision about opening the Morganza Spillway, she said.

Doiron met with the Corps in Patterson Thursday night, along with Environmental and Permits Manager John J. Clark, Parish Councilman Louis “Pete” Kelley Jr. of Bayou Sorrel and Maj. Johnny Blanchard of the Iberville Sheriff's Office.

“They do anticipate opening it,” she said, but at half capacity.

Forecasters are predicting the highest levels on record. The levee system has been built since the 1927 flood, however, and further improved after the last major flood, in 1973, the last time the Morganza Spillway was opened.

A 12-foot wall was added to the top of the Atchafalaya levees after '73, when water on the spillway side rose to 18.1 feet, Doiron said. She said she was awaiting word from the Corps of Engineers about what water levels to expect if Morganza is opened.

Opening Morganza would cause somewhat greater danger of backwater flooding “down the bayou. If the situation were complicated by rainfall, there would be nowhere for the water to flow out of the area, she said.

“They're not anticipating any rain as of now,” Doiron said. “How about that? The middle of a drought, and we flood? So we need to pray for the drought to continue.”