Officials discuss opening Morganza Spillway

Officials discuss opening Morganza Spillway
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)

MORGANZA, LA (WAFB) - An announcement about the Morganza Spillway is expected to come Thursday, according to Col. Rick Hansen, Commander of the New Orleans District of the U.S. Army Corps. If made operational, the spillway could open as early as January 11 and could remain open approximately 10 days.

Hansen spoke at a town hall in Morganza. While those in attendance did ask logistical questions about the opening of the spillway, most seemed to accept that the spillway will likely be opened.

"We are dealing with Mother Nature and she is a tough tough lady," said Pointe Coupee Parish President Melanie Bueche.

There are two trigger factors for the spillway to be made operational: a water height of 57 feet and a flow rate of 1.5 million cubic feet per second. Hansen said those factors appear to be falling into place.

"We have a forecast that the flows in the river and the main stem will exceed 1.5 million cubic feet per second," he said.

If the decision is made to open the spillway, it would occur very slowly. Not all gates would be opened at once.

Those living in the flood zone would have about three days to prepare and evacuate. That includes Matt Jewell, who owns a hunting camp in the spillway.

"We'll start to gut the inside, try to salvage the inside walls and we'll have to haul all the furniture out and appliances try to get them out," he said.

He said his camp flooded with 16 feet of water back in 2011, the last time the spillway was opened.

"Hunting season is coming to a close, we have about 20 days left," he said. "So it will cut our hunting season short this year, but hopefully the animals will come back and we'll have a good season."

For those downstream, the Army Corps said 2011 demonstrates that opening the spillway could be necessary.

"The system was taxed to its limit to pass that 1.5 million cubic feet per second. Those in Baton Rouge that saw how high the water was on the Baton Rouge waterfront know that. We do not want to risk any more water than that in this system at this time," Hansen said.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps said one community in the pathway of the spillway will not see higher water if the spillway is indeed opened. At Butte LaRose, the Atchafalaya River is currently projected to crest at 23.5 ft. If the spillway is opened, the Army Corps said water will still crest at the same height. Army Corps officials said this is because the Red River is already so high and is thus influencing the Atchafalaya's height.

"That is really what is controlling the forecast for crests at Butte LaRose," Hansen said.

There are two additional community meetings about the Morganza Spillway later this week. They are at the following locations and times:

  • Thursday, January 7, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. 
    728 Myrtle Street 
    Morgan City, LA 70380
  • Thursday, January 7, 6 p.m. - 9 p.m. 
    Butte LaRose Fire Station 
    1715 Herman Dupuis Rd 
    Breaux Bridge, La.  70517

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