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High water lingers; 2nd Mississippi River spillway may open

By JANET McCONNAUGHEYMay 23, 2019

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — With high water setting longevity records on the Mississippi River, officials say they may have to open a spillway west of Baton Rouge for the third time ever. A spillway north of New Orleans is already open.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday that he will soon ask for a federal disaster declaration to set up potential aid for protective measures and debris cleanup. He declared a statewide disaster Feb. 27 because of the threat of flooding.

Opening the Morganza Floodway would inundate 25,000 acres (1,000 hectares) of farmland, Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said during a news conference with Edwards, livestreamed from Baton Rouge. He said he has advised farmers to move livestock, crawfish traps and other equipment out of the floodway, and asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a disaster declaration.

If rain in the Arkansas and Missouri river valleys meets current forecasts, Morganza would be partly opened to keep the Mississippi River from flowing over it and making it impossible to open further, Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Ricky Boyett said earlier. The opening could be as early as June 2, he said.

“The rain we’re looking at has yet to fall. We’ll see what happens,” Boyett said.

Both the Morganza and Bonnet Carré spillways were built after the great flood of 1927, which killed hundreds and left many more homeless. The Morganza Spillway was previously opened in 1973 and 2011.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said he wants to be part of all future meetings about Mississippi River flood management and the opening of the Bonnet Carré spillway.

Its opening “has allowed freshwater and pollutants to flow through Lake Pontchartrain into the Mississippi Sound, killing dolphins and sea turtles and adversely impacting the seafood industry. ... I understand that the Corps is concerned about potential flooding in the New Orleans area. Meanwhile, our Delta farmers may not be able to plant a crop this summer,” Hood wrote in a letter Wednesday to Maj. Gen. Richard Kaiser, commander of the Corps’ Mississippi Valley Division.

Edwards said a decision whether to open Morganza probably will be made by May 28. If it is to open, authorities will decide whether to sink a barge in Bayou Chene, south of Morgan City, as a temporary floodgate to protect five parishes, he said.

Area residents are upset that hasn’t already been done, The Daily Review reported .

The Mississippi River has set records for the number of days at flood stage at Baton Rouge and at Natchez, Mississippi, National Weather Service hydrologist Kai Roth said. The Ohio River has done the same at Cairo, Illinois, he said.

Edwards said the state transportation department will try to reopen a half-mile stretch of Louisiana 70 in St. Martin Parish by creating temporary dams alongside the highway and then pumping water out.

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