The Morganza Spillway and the Atchafalaya Basin
The road between Lafayette and Baton Rouge crosses a large area called the Atchafalaya Basin. Years ago when the Mississippi River would flood it would spill over into the Atchafalaya and make a general mess out of everything. Early in the last century it became apparent the Mighty Mississippi was in danger of changing its course and overtaking the Atchafalaya Basin. The great flood of 1927 just about accomplished that. The river was 75 miles wide in some areas. That was when the COE began its work to contain the Mississippi. Among all the other levee and spillway systems built after that was the Morganza Spillway. The Morganza Floodway is designed to relieve the Mississippi flooding, but it wrecks everything downstream through the Atchafalaya Basin. The Morganza Spillway has only been opened twice since its completion in the ’50s: once in 1973 and once in 2011.
I spent time down there surveying in the middle ’70s. Most of what we worked on was repairing the damage from the ’73 opening. This Okie had never seen a real ‘river’ before then. We have a floodway constructed through central OK that is capable of a flow of 45,000 cfs. This pales to the 1.5 million cfs that will flow through the Morganza Spillway if all the gates are opened. The spillway was scoured (and repaired) after the 1973 event when only 30% of the gates were opened.
It looks like as early as June 2, 2019 the COE will open the Morganza Spillway. While the controlled release rates are still up in the air, but it is looking like it’s going to be a record event.
I fell in love with the folks (and the food and the music…and the beer) along the Atchafalaya while working down there. Just plain folks working to make ends meet, they would give you the shirts off their backs if you asked. Most of us don’t realize all the flooding that has recently taken place from Illinois to Nebraska to Arkansas all winds up down there in one place, the Mississippi. And it looks like this summer will be a bad one for folks down there. Imagine if you weren’t able to work all summer into September.
I bet they do what they can make it through hard times and high water. But I’m saying a prayer for them anyway. The river does what it wants and no man will ever stop it. Bonne chance mon amis. Dit une pri??re.
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