NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The rare event of a rising Mississippi River during winter is forcing the Army Corps of Engineers to likely open the Bonnet Carre Spillway as early as Saturday.
"This would be the earliest date in any calendar year that it's been operated previously," Col. Richard Hansen said.
On Tuesday, the Corps announced it will begin Phase II of its flood protection plan. The National Weather Service is predicting water levels high enough to make it mandatory to open the spillway, relieving pressure on the Mississippi River levees.
"The crest that the National Weather Service is currently predicting for this event are close but are below the historic crest that we saw in 2011. We are confident that the system as it stands today can safely pass this high water event," Hansen said. "So there's no critical concerns that were greatly worried about."
At this time, the river is flowing at 1 million cubic feet per second near the Bonnet Carre. The NWS predicts the flow to reach 1 1/4 million cubic feet per second by the weekend, which is equivalent to filling up the Superdome every 4 seconds.
"This is unusual primarily I think because all the precipitation that's falling in the northern part of the basin so far is mostly liquid," Southeastern LA Flood Authority's Bob Turner said.
Inspectors across the region combed the levee system looking for signs of seepage.
"So far, no problems to report. We have one possible area that is a seep. It's typical this time of the year at this river stage that we see something like that down there," Turner said.
While the river is reaching its crest, the Corps asks people stay off the levee entirely so that inspections can continue without issue.
The Corps does not expect the water level to subside until the end of the month. The water level river at the Carrollton Gauge was above 14 feet Tuesday afternoon.
"We'll probably add about two feet to the stage that you see today in the river," Hansen said.