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With Waters Rising, Army Corps Likely To Open Bonnet Carré Spillway To Protect New Orleans

Colonel Rick Hansen, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District,  says it’s time to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway in order to divert floodwaters and protect New Orleans.
Tegan Wendland
/
WWNO
Colonel Rick Hansen, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District, says it’s time to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway in order to divert floodwaters and protect New Orleans.";

As the Mississippi and Red Rivers rise, officials are grappling with how to manage all of the water. The Army Corps of Engineers may open the Mississippi River’s Bonnet Carré Spillway this weekend.

New Orleans District Commander, Col. Rick Hansen, says it is time to open the spillway. Just west of the city, it diverts the Mississippi River to protect New Orleans.

Hansen announced the plans at the Corps' New Orleans headquarters Tuesday, with the swollen Mississippi as a backdrop. It rose high on the banks, and tree trunks bobbed up and down in the fast-moving water.

Hansen says the spillway has never been opened so early in the year -- spring flooding usually happens around May, and the river moves differently in winter.

“There are no differences in the physical operation of the spillway, but there are differences in the way the river behaves or performs," says Hansen. "When there’s less vegetation along the riverbanks and the batture, the river is a little more efficient in moving water at any given stage.”

The Corps has been monitoring river levels since mid-December, but now that the river has reached 15 feet they begin phase two, continuously inspecting all levees for seepage.

The river is expected to reach flood stage, 17 feet, next week. Hansen says the Corps could open the spillway as soon as Saturday.

His recommendation to open the spillway must first be approved by the commander of the Corps' Mississippi River Division, Major General Michael Wehr.

The Corps is also considering opening the Morganza Floodway, above Baton Rouge.

Support for WWNO's Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Coypu Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. 

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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