Miss. River to begin rapid fall

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 6, 2009

NATCHEZ — Expected to stand at 52 feet this morning, the water level in the Mississippi River is projected to start a significant fall over the next week.

The National Weather Service’s Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center has predicted that the river will fall approximately a foot a day, bringing the river within a half-foot of falling back below flood stage by Wednesday at 48.5 feet.

While the river crested at slightly above 54 feet late last month, much of the intense discussion about the water level that characterized the 2008 high water season was missing this year.

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And that’s just because of human nature, Concordia Parish Emergency Director Morris White said.

“When you get a situation where (the river) comes up and goes down and comes up and goes down, and doesn’t reach the major point of affecting the economy of the parish, people don’t worry about it,” White said.

It’s also likely that, because the area has a history of successful flood fights, people are confident things will go smoothly, he said.

“The levee has always held because of the good work the levee board does, and so (young people) haven’t seen what we have seen in years past,” White said.

Levee District No. 5 President Reynold Minsky said he thinks part of the reason residents weren’t as worried this year is because the rise was slow, steady and anticipated.

“We didn’t see anything coming that we were afraid of,” he said.

Natchez City Engineer David Gardner agreed.

“First, we were better prepared this year, and second, the water didn’t get as high,” Gardner said.

“We were more experienced with it, but this year we were calmer because we had a sense of knowing it wasn’t as bad as last year.”

A more successful flood fight likely contributed to the relative easy feelings about the situation from the public, Gardner said.

“Because we were able to keep the water out of the street and the sewer going (Under-the-Hill), they were more calm,” he said. “It wasn’t as overwhelming to them as if they were driving through water in the street. That’s a big psychological factor.”

But there were lessons from last year that were put to good use this time around.

The levee district learned last year that, if sandbag rings are stacked too highly around sand boils, it will cause the boil to jump to another location outside the sandbag ring, Minsky said.

“We learned you need to let a little water run out of the top of those (sandbag) wells,” he said.

And every year adds a little more to the flood fighters’ knowledge, Gardner said.

“When we first started doing this in 1992, they were building bridges in the road (on Silver Street) — it was a mess,” he said. “We just didn’t know.

After this year’s success, Gardner said it might be time to rewrite the city’s flood fighting policy to reflect what they now know about building levees and keeping water out of Silver Street.

Both Gardner and Minsky said that it is time to begin slowly removing sandbags.

But they agreed about another thing as well.

“This flooding every year is just getting old,” Gardner said.