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Coastal Desk

Army Corps Opens Bonnet Carré Spillway

The Army Corps of Engineers used small cranes to slowly begin opening up the Bonnet Carre Spillway.
Tegan Wendland
/
WWNO
The Army Corps of Engineers used small cranes to slowly begin opening up the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

The Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway Sunday morning in order to relieve the swollen Mississippi River and prevent flooding in New Orleans.

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Credit Tegan Wendland / WWNO
Corps engineers opened one section, or bay, at a time.

According to officials, about 2,000 people gathered on the grassy banks of the river near Norco, La. to watch as the Corps began slowly opening the spillway.

The Spillway opening is a mile and a half long cement wall with big wooden boards, like railroad ties, holding the river back. It opens into the 5.5 mile long spillway. Corps engineers used a small crane to pull out the boards to let the water through as state police patrolled overhead in helicopters.

The water began to fill the marshy spillway and make its way towards Lake Pontchartrain. A few trees and logs popped through as officials patrolled for debris in a small boat below.

Wendy Allen brought her two grandchildren to the opening, saying they came when it was opened in 2008. “They’re freezing! But we are having a blast!”

It’s only the 11th time the spillway has been opened since it was built in the 1930’s. This month’s unusual flooding marks the first time it has been opened in the winter. But the Corps has opened the spillway three times already since 2008.

U.S. representative Garret Graves says that’s not coincidence.

“Clearly there are trends that we are seeing that are changing right now," he says. "We’ve got to watch this very closely and understand what’s happening with the Mississippi River system to make sure that we don’t flood these communities down here.”

 

The Corps is opening 20 sections, or bays, on Sunday and another 10 on Monday, allowing about 20,000 cubic feet of water per second to flow through.
Credit Tegan Wendland / WWNO
The Corps is opening 20 sections, or bays, on Sunday and another 10 on Monday, allowing about 20,000 cubic feet of water per second to flow through.

The Corps will continue slowly opening the spillway over several days and could leave it open for a few weeks, until the flow of the river drops back below 1.25 million cubic feet per second.

This story has been revised to reflect the following correction: The Bonnet Carré Spillway is itself 5.7 miles long, while the gates between the river and the spillway (the "weir opening") stretch 7,000 feet.

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

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