Market Matters Blog

Mississippi River Floodwaters Reach New Orleans

By Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
Pictured is the Bonnet Carre Diversionary Spillway located in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana. It is part of the Mississippi River and Tributaries project (MRT) and is the southernmost floodway in the MRT system. The spillway reduces risk for New Orleans and other downstream communities during major floods on the Mississippi River. (Photo courtesy of USACE, New Orleans District)

As predicted, the glut of water from heavy rains and melting snow that caused extensive flooding along the Mississippi River in Missouri and southern Illinois the past couple weeks is making its way farther south toward the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and shipping companies are scrambling to deal with the unusual winter flood.

On Sunday, Jan. 10, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway to keep the volume of Mississippi River flows at New Orleans from exceeding 1.25 million cubic feet per second as the flood waters moved south into Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The spillway opening, the earliest since construction was completed in 1931, has not been opened since 2011 and is expected to be open for several weeks. (…)

Operation of the structure will relieve pressure on main-line levees, maintain river stages, and regulate the flow of the river from the spillway southward, according to the Corps. The Corps removed 400 of the nearly 7,000 needles (8-inch by 12-inch wooden beams) Sunday, which opened 20 of the structure's 350 bays. An additional 30 bays may open Jan. 11, depending on river speeds and levels. The opening of the spillway chambers will take a couple of days, and while river traffic will be open during operations, speeds will be slow.

Tom Russell, Russell Marine, told DTN, "As the Lower Mississippi continues to rise, additional safety measures are being imposed by authorities in the New Orleans -- Baton Rouge Harbors. Some of these measures are being imposed for the first time as the harbor is expected to hit flood stage Jan. 11." On Sunday, Jan. 10, the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge was at 40.71 feet and is expected to crest at 42.4 feet on Jan. 15.

"Many terminals are restricted to daylight-only docking/undocking, including all mid-stream berths," added Russell. "Ocean vessel traffic will be restricted as follows as imposed by the New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association (NOBRA) Pilots for their territory. Mile 233 (Baton Rouge) to mile 90.5 (Chalmette) restricted to daylight only for southbound traffic. Vessel traffic at mile 166 (Burnside) to 232 (Baton Rouge) is restricted to daylight only. Any vessel at anchorage above mile 90 drawing over 30-foot draft will be required to have a pilot on board at all times in case of emergency."

"Tow boats and barges in the Baton Rouge-New Orleans Harbor are moving around the clock. There are some mandatory and self-imposed restrictions in place as follows: Tows passing under the Baton Rouge Bridge mile 233 can only pass during daylight-only hours. It is OK for tows to pass under all other bridges in harbor around the clock. Fleet sizes are being reduced with mandatory tugs remaining in the fleet at all times for safety purposes."

It is expected that vessel and barge shifts in the harbor will take longer through at least the first half of February. "As loading operations slow due to high water, and probably more unfavorable weather expected, barge fleets can become full and harbor congestion is likely to occur," added Russell.

Once the flooding recedes, there will be deposits of silt in the harbor and along the river-way caused by the turbulent flood waters rushing downriver. As flood waters recede, the heavy silt deposits become more problematic. These deposits can cause barge groundings and damage vessels, forcing the USACE to send dredges to troubled areas, creating further delays to barge traffic.

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Mary Kennedy 1/13/2016 | 4:43 PM CST
UPDATE 1-13-16

The US Coast Guard closed the River at Mile marker 437 near Vicksburg Tuesday after the US 80 bridge was hit by a tow, sinking 4 barges. Then on Wednesday, after the USCG reopened the river there, the bridge was hit again, sinking more barges. The currents are dangerously strong, likely causing the tows to veer as they head under the bridge. So far there is no apparent damage to the bridge, but the river is closed once again and it is likely the barges may not be retrieved until water levels drop.