Mississippi River flooding: Officials monitoring levees

Published 11:40 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2019


NATCHEZ — Fifth Louisiana Levee District Board members are patrolling the Mississippi River levees daily to keep an eye on levee saturation and sand boils that could become problems, a board member said.

“Our men are patrolling it as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees,” said Barry Maxwell, levee board member. “The levees are very, very saturated. They are maintaining them and building sand bag cofferdams around them where needed.”

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Maxwell said the Fifth Louisiana Levee District Board is responsible for levees from the Arkansas state line to the Old River Station and within that area board members have identified approximately 30 sand boils in recent weeks that could be potential problems.

“As long as there is clear water boiling, it is fine,” Maxwell said. “If it is muddy, it means the water is eating up bottom of the levee.”

Nonetheless, Maxwell said, levee board employees are building cofferdams around the sand boils to retain any seepage through the levee walls.

The Mississippi River level at Natchez was at 57.06 feet on Wednesday evening and river forecasts remained steady Wednesday with the National Weather Service projecting a crest of 58 feet on the Natchez gage on March 10, which would make it the third highest crest on record.

The river reached its highest crest in 2011 at 61.95 feet, which beat the second highest flood of 58.04 feet in 1937.

Guy Murray, Concordia Parish Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said Vidalia is watching the riverfront closely for any seepage that could turn into sand boils as well as maintaining pumps to handle any additional rain events.

“In the parish we are keeping eyes on the levee system alongside the Corps and levee board,” Murray said. “Hopefully this crest will come and go like the forecast shows.”

Likewise, Maxwell said the levee board is hoping projections would hold that the crest level would last three to four days and then have a gradual fall.

Meanwhile, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District officials said they are conducting daily patrols throughout the jurisdiction.

“At this time, all of the mainline Mississippi River gauges in the Vicksburg District’s jurisdiction are experiencing major or moderate flooding, according to the National Weather Service,” said Drew Smith, chief of water management at the Vicksburg District. “Technical experts from the Vicksburg District office and the Greenwood and Vidalia area offices are deploying to inspect and monitor flood control works, such as levees, floodwalls, reservoirs and relief wells, to ensure that they continue to function as designed. These patrols will continue as long as elevated water levels persist. The district has observed no significant sand boils or seepage at flood control sites.”

The Vicksburg District, Smith said, has approximately 60 personnel working to support local, state and federal officials with technical expertise and flood-fight material as needed.

The district’s four flood control reservoirs, Enid, Grenada, Sardis and Arkabutla lakes, Smith said, are being used to hold runoff, or excess rainwater, as a flood-prevention measure. The Vicksburg District has issued 11,000 sandbags to various locations in the region.
“We are experiencing above average rainfall across the region, and that rainfall has caused some water levels to reach historic elevations,” Smith said. “For example, the Yazoo River between Yazoo City and Belzoni is higher than its elevation during the historic 2011 flood due to a combination of Mississippi River backwater and heavy local rainfall across the Yazoo River Basin. The Yazoo Backwater area is also forecasted to potentially reach its highest elevation since 1979.”