River levels to crest at 51 feet

Published 11:53 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2009

VIDALIA — Flood-level waters are expected, and local officials said they are keeping an eye on the river but aren’t overly concerned yet.

The National Weather Service has predicted the Mississippi River’s level will stand at 44.4 feet this morning and will continue to rise until it reaches flood stage next Wednesday morning. It is currently expected to crest at 51 feet the morning of May 20.

Flood stage at the Natchez-Vidalia pass is 48 feet above gauge zero, which at that location is set at 17.28 feet above sea level, meaning that the water stands at 65.28 feet above sea level, not necessarily including the depth of the river channel.

Email newsletter signup

The Vidalia riverfront shouldn’t experience any difficulties unless the water reaches a level of 54 feet, Mayor Hyram Copeland said.

At that point, water starts backing through the drainage system into the street.

Copeland said the city is currently pursuing a grant that will provide funding to replace a backflap on the drainage system to prevent future high water from working onto the riverfront.

“Other than where the new boat launching facility is, we don’t expect any issues,” Copeland said. “We will probably sandbag that area to keep the water from coming in.”

The boat launching site is on the south end of the river walk, which was slightly lowered for its construction.

Though the areas in the southern part of Concordia Parish that are located on the outside of the levee are flooded, Emergency Director Morris White said he’s confident everything will be fine.

“What bothers us is not if the river gets up on the levee but if the river stays on the levee,” White said.

“If (the river) goes up and goes back down, I have full confidence in Concordia Parish’s levees.”

What he will start doing when the river reaches flood stage is survey the levees for minor sand boils, which happen when water works its way under the levee.

To combat boils, teams of sandbaggers build what is essentially a pressure well around the boil until the water pressure equalizes and stops the undermining of the levee.

“Those levees are pretty tough,” White said.

The river will start to affect Adams County at 48 feet, because the water crosses Thornburg Lake Road and Carthage Point Road at that level, but that will only affect a few farmers and fishermen, Adams County Emergency Director Stan Owens said.

“We really start to keep a close eye on it at 50 feet,” Owens said.

When the water reaches a level of 53 feet is when county residents start to really feel the effect, because that is when Burke Road floods, Owens said.

That might be mitigated somewhat, however, because the county built the road up approximately a foot since last year’s high water event, Owens said.

Meanwhile, most of the City of Natchez is well above the floodwaters, but Silver Street in Natchez Under-the-Hill is at the water’s edge.

City Engineer David Gardner said the city has a basic guide to help with decisions about things like when to close Silver Street or when to require the Isle of Capri casino boat to move to a different location.

“It’s still too early to talk about those extreme measures,” Gardner said.

Adopted in March 2001, the plan dictates the city meet with Isle of Capri officials when the water reaches a level of 48.5.

At 49.5 feet, the casino will have to be moved to the D.A. Biglane side of Under-the-Hill; at 50 feet water begins to encroach on the street; and at 52.5 feet Silver Street has to be closed.

Between 53.5 and 54 feet, the water begins to impact the sewer Under-the-Hill, and at 54 feet the city has to close D.A. Biglane Street.

But though the city has a plan, those involved may not follow it to the letter.

“We may not do it exactly like we have before,” Gardner said. “We have to use good judgment every year because every scenario is different.”

The city has already scheduled a meeting with the Isle of Capri for Thursday to make sure plans are in place for the weekend.

Though it is not uncommon for officials to meet with concerned parties whose businesses are located on Silver Street every day during a high water event, every two to three days will probably be sufficient for the time being, Gardner said.

Even though predictions are helpful, no one can really know what the river will do until it happens, Copeland said.

“In a situation like this, you prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Copeland said.