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Mississippi River's rising levels send flow of inspectors to levee

The Corps expects the river to crest Thursday at 15.7 feet. (FOX 8 Photo) The Corps expects the river to crest Thursday at 15.7 feet. (FOX 8 Photo)
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -

Rising water levels along the Mississippi River are sending a steady flow of inspectors out to scan the levee system.
    
From Venice to Baton Rouge, Corps of Engineer and New Orleans Levee District crews check hundreds of miles as the river hits above 15 feet at the Carrollton gage last week. 

"The main thing that we see at this level is seepage, and that is when we start to see river water traveling underneath the levee through the foundation and popping up on the backside, the protected side," Corps spokesman Mike Stack said. 
 
Finding seepage is common, but finding it early is how the Corps is able to fix a small problem before it turns into a major issue, according to Stack. 

The high water levels give inspectors the most opportune time to test the levee system. 

"If we see that seepage and it's starting to transport material to the point where it starts to become a sand boil, which is when we start to see material moving, then it's a sandbagging type of procedure where we sandbag around it, build up water pressure to balance the load, and we stop that material from moving," Stack said. 

The Corps expects the river to crest Thursday at 15.7 feet. 

With the river rolling along at high levels, riverboat captains must stay on high alert. 

"The river itself is running at about twice the speed as it normally does. What that does is dislodge a lot of stuff on the banks - big trees, big limbs - and that requires an increase level of awareness from our captains," E.N. Bisso and Sons, Inc. COO Matt Holzhalb said. 

The tug boat company spokesman said the water level is carrying large amounts of debris that captains have to dodge in order not to get anything lodged in propellers. The powerful currents have even uprooted anchored buoys, and the increasing levels are increasing the demand for tug boats, according to Holzhalb. 

"In some cases, the ship wants to pull away from the docks so the tug boats are needed to push the ships against the docks so most of the boats are out working right now," Holzhalb said. 

"We've seen these levels before," Stack said. "We are a little bit later in the year than normal, but we've seen this before. We're out there making sure that nothing becomes a problem that we need to deal with."

The Corps does not anticipate opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway or the Morganza Spillway to ease the pressure off the levees in the New Orleans area. The last time that was done was in 2011. 

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