With no levee, Mississippi River invades a Louisiana swamp

With no levee, Mississippi River invades a Louisiana swamp

ST. FRANCISVILLE, LA (WVUE) - A layer of fog drapes over a kayaker on Bayou Sara, as cool water from the Mississippi River near St. Francisville mixes with warm air.

The Bayou, which normally has a depth of two feet or so, now resembles a river.

"There would be inches," explained Andrew Green, who runs the Bayou Sara Kayak Company.

The high Mississippi River has swallowed the sand bars that normally pop into view.

Green paddles his way into the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge, a little slice of natural Louisiana.

"It's one of the few parts of the lower Mississippi that isn't leveed," Green said.  "The river is able to come and go as it pleases."

The absence of that straight jacket of levees means the river inundates the refuge and the surrounding area outside St. Francisville.

"This is one of the few places where you can get a glimpse of what it would have been 100 years ago," Green said.

Just outside the boundaries of the refuge, a several hundred year old cypress tree normally sits high and dry in a field.  This week, even as the river was falling rapidly, about seven feet of water surrounded the giant.

By no means is the system completely natural.

Levees protect developed areas just a few miles to the east, corralling water in or near the refuge.

"All the mass of water that would have spread out over hundreds of miles is just concentrated here," Green said.  "So, you get this huge swings up and huge swings down."

Late 2015 and early 2016 have produced almost freakish swings in the river heights, as the weather phenomenon El Nino dumped heavy rains in the upper Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys.

This week, it looked as though someone had opened a drain in Cat Island, as water poured from the refuge back toward the river.

"It falls so quickly."

However, forecasters say it will be several weeks before the river and the swamp return to what man considers normal for late winter.

Copyright 2016 WVUE. All rights reserved.