NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - As of noon Thursday, a full one-third of the Bonnet Carre Spillway's bays were open, allowing nearly 100,000 cubic feet of water per second into the basin channel and into Lake Pontchartrain.
The Corps of Engineers sent out airboats armed with drones to document the impact of massive amounts of water from the Mississippi River on the 7,700-foot-wide control structure, as well as the basin that connects the river to Lake Pontchartrain.
"Today we are going to do some historical documentation, and seeing how the flows divert differently," said Corps spokesman Thomas Davis.
The airboats are also on standby in case any members of the pin removal team have a mishap, and today there are none as they pull 200 more pins, opening 10 bays, bringing the total to 100.
"The structure is 88 years old, so we take a lot of care, we do a lot of inspections on structure itself," said Corps project manager Chris Brantley.
Officials are monitoring a huge 50-foot tree, now lodged in the 11th bay. So far, nothing to fear, but it will likely remain there until the water goes down.
One drone flies for a full 25 minutes, the full length of the spillways mile-and-a-half width. It captures images of enough water to fill nine tanker trucks each second, and makes a perfect landing after it's job is done.
"We fly before and after the opening to see how much sediment has been moved, and how much dirt has been moved by the water," Davis said.
The river has risen a full 2 feet since two weeks ago, and is still on the rise. That's bringing in lots of freshwater fish, including invasive species like silver carp.
"I thought it was a cat at first," said fisherman Deion Lawrence.
The fish are tagged, and their movements monitored. Anyone who catches one is asked to take a picture, and send it to the Corps, but it's the rare pallid sturgeon that the biologists want.
"After the structure is closed, we will catch the sturgeon, the pallids will be measured and put back in the Mississippi River," Brantley said.
As the 2016 spillway opening continues, documenting its impacts will go on, too. And with one-third of the control structure bays now open, it's up to the mighty Mississippi to determine how many more bays will follow suit. The Mississippi River isn't rising as much as expected. Corps officials anticipate opening about 50 more of the Bonnet Carre's 300 bays in the next couple of days as they deal with the high-water emergency. That's about half the spillway's capacity.