NEW ORLEANS — The Bonnet Carre Spillway is now open for a fourth time in the last three years.
The Mississippi is approaching flood stage in New Orleans and the maximum flow rate on the river hit 1.25 million cubic feet per second, the trigger to open the structure.
“Since September of 2019, the Upper Mississippi Valley experienced one of the wettest periods on record,” Army Corps of Engineers Division Commander Major General Mark Toy said. “All of that water has made it down the system.”
Friday, crews spent the morning lifting wooden pins allowing river water to flow through the spillway.
The structure, about 30 miles upriver from New Orleans, diverts water from the Mississippi into Lake Pontchartrain.
By doing so, it takes pressure off the river levees and helps protect communities below from flooding.
“To the people who are affected by the opening of the spillway, I ask you to understand that we do this to help save lives, to protect people,” Toy said.
Last year's two openings, totaling a combined 123 days caused a lot of damage to the seafood industry in the normally brackish Lake Pontchartrain Basin and Mississippi Sound.
The head of the Army Corps in New Orleans, Col. Steve Murphy said this year’s opening will be shorter in duration and send far less freshwater into the local estuaries.
“Compared to the amount of water we put into Lake Pontchartrain last year, we’re only putting, right now, planning to put about 10 percent of that total volume,” Murphy said.
The Army Corps of Engineers is taking on the flood fight on the lower Mississippi River while also being part of the federal response to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Major Gen. Toy said they are now working with FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services to build out hospital capacity to meet a demand for ICU beds during the current surge in COVID cases across the country.
“We developed, through the Army Corps of Engineers and our expertise, concepts of how they can convert arenas, dorms, hospitals that have closed, hotels to hospital facilities,” Toy said. “You saw what we did in New York City with the Javits Center. We’re also doing at McCormick Place in Chicago and we’re doing it in other areas across the country.”
Back at the Bonnet Carre, the Army Corps expects to eventually open then close about a third of the 350 bays. The structure is expected to remain open for about a month.