River actually one foot higher through drought

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 8, 2000

The Mississippi River is only one-third as deep at Natchez as it was at its April high, but it is actually 1 foot higher than usual for this time of year, according to U.S. Corps of Engineers experts.

The river at Natchez was at 14.4 feet Wednesday and was forecast to reach 13.8 feet today and 13.1 feet Saturday — down from the year-to-date high of 36.4 feet on April 18 but one foot higher than usual.

&uot;The upper river basin had enough rain in the spring and early summer that we’re just now coming down from that,&uot; said Charlie Little, a Corps hydraulic engineer.

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&uot;And it would have to get down almost below 6 feet or below to affect river traffic&uot; because the river channel is deep at Natchez, said Jim Jefferies, chief of the Corps’ navigation section in Vicksburg.

The Natchez port, which was built 42 years, was built to function even at extremely low river stages and has had no problems due to low water this year, said Executive Director Pat Murphy. &uot;Also, this port is unique because we have a deep water channel. It not doesn’t silt up and need dredging like other areas do,&uot; he said.

Meanwhile, Concordia Parish lakes are at the lowest levels they have seen in almost 20 years due to a near-drought in the last three years, said Mike Ewing, a district fisheries biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Parks.

Area rainfall for the year to date is more than 10 inches lower than normal. As a result, Lakes St. John and Concordia are at about 46 feet above mean sea level, about two feet below normal — which has caused headaches for people trying to launch their boats onto the water.

&uot;We paved a new ramp last year, and it’s a good thing, because the lake is the lowest I’ve seen it in years,&uot; said Jody Martin, owner of Sportsman’s Lodge of Lake Concordia.

Shallow water close to the lakes’ banks have exposed more stumps and logs, making some piers less accessible to boats, said Reggie Wycoff, District IV director for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Parks.

&uot;It’s too shallow to fish unless you go out beyond the piers,&uot; Ewing said. &uot;With shallow water, vegetation may also spread out more. And having weeds further out in the lake could also affect access.&uot;

Natchez resident Pat Burns has been vacationing at Concordia Parish’s Lake St. John for more than 80 years, and this year’s low water has also caused some property damage.

&uot;I’ve had to tie my boat at the end of the pier,&uot; Burns said. &uot;I tied it on the side, and with the high winds lately, the sides of the boat were pulled loose. I can still use it. But this low water’s something else.&uot;

One piece of good news is that low water doesn’t seem to have had an affect on the fish population, Ewing said. &uot;If this had happened last spring, during spawning season, we would have had a problem,&uot; he added.