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The Bonnet Carre Spillway opens for the third year in a row

Army Corps hopes hopes to limit negative effects of spillway on surrounding waters
Published: Apr. 3, 2020 at 5:50 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - For the fourth time in three flood seasons, a crew from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

The spillway upriver from New Orleans is designed to prevent flooding in the city and surrounding areas.

“We do this to help save lives,” said Major General Mark Toy, commander of the Mississippi Valley Division.

Normally a spectacle drawing huge crowds, the spillway opening was limited by the COVID-19 pandemic to a small group of Corps staff and media members.

Without action, the National Weather Service forecasts the river flow in New Orleans would exceed 1.25 million cubic feet per second, the trigger point for spillway.

Three other times this season heavy rains in the country’s middle section brought the river close to the threshold to operate the spillway.

“We approached it, didn’t meet it,” said Colonel Stephen Murphy, the New Orlean District commander. “Here we are at the fourth time.”

In Louisiana and Mississippi, commercial and charter boat captains, who are already losing business to the pandemic, fear more damage to fisheries.

"A double whammy," charter boat captain Frank Becker told WLOX-TV earlier this week.

"By the time this clears out, we'll be facing that situation again, and it's even a longer, drawn out process for us."

Critics want the Corps to make more frequent use of the Morganza Spillway upriver from Baton Rouge, which has operated only twice in its history.

Toy said the Corps is working with congressional leaders to authorize a study of the river and the various flood fighting tools.

"We hear the people who are concerned about how we operate the system," Toy said.

However, the Corps says the potential solutions are not simple.

Morganza would send water toward Morgan City and surrounding communities still in need of a more elaborate system of levees and floodgates.

Based on current rainfall forecasts, the Corps estimates it will send about 10 percent of last year’s flow into Lake Pontchartrain.

However, engineers concede mother nature will have the final say on the duration of the spillway’s operation.

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