Mississippi River Flood of 2011 Atchafalaya River, Basin and Backwater Areas
Update and Ground Patrol for Louisiana Environmental Action Network and Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper
by Wilma Subra May 15, 2011
The Atchafalaya River receives 30% of the flow from the Mississippi River via the Old River Control Complex northeast of Simmesport, Louisiana. Due to the flooding conditions along the Mississippi River due to excessive rainfall in the middle Mississippi River valley, the Atchafalaya River has received an increase in flow from the Mississippi River. The Atchafalaya River has been in excess of flood stage and experiencing flooding conditions from the Old River Control Complex southward to Morgan City, Louisiana.
Beginning on May 14, 2011, the Morganza Spillway began to be opened and discharge additional large quantities of Mississippi River water into the Atchafalaya Basin to relieve the pressure on the levee system and to protect Baton Rouge and New Orleans. A total of 50 to 54% percent of the Mississippi River flow will be diverted into the Atchafalaya River and Basin via the Old River Control Complex and the Morganza Spillway. As a result 10% of the state of Louisiana could be flooded. Within the Atchafalaya Basin 2,500 people and 2,000 structures will be impacted. In the backwater areas associated with the Atchafalaya Basin, 22,500 people and 11,000 homes, businesses and other structures will be impacted. In addition large quantities of agricultural crops will be destroyed.
On May 14, the day the Morganza Spillway began to be opened, the Atchafalaya River not yet impacted by the opening of the Morganza Spillway, was already over its banks and flooding businesses along its banks stretching from the Old River Control Complex southward through Morgan City. The Wax Lake Outlet which diverts part of the flow of the Atchafalaya River to the Gulf of Mexico near Calumet was overflowing its banks and flooding businesses.
The Atchafalaya River in Morgan City was covering the shrimp boat docks, inundating oil and seafood businesses along the river, up on the cement flood walls and seeping through the closed floodgates. Flood stage is 4 feet in Morgan City. The water stage was 6.91 feet and rising. The impacts of the opening of the Morganza Spillway is predicted to reach Morgan City on May 17, 2011 and make the flooding situation much greater.
Atchafalaya River in Morgan City taken from the Berwick side of the river. Flood waters cover the shrimp boat docks and are leaking through the cement flood wall gates.
On the Berwick side of the Atchafalaya River the floodgates along the river front are closed. The water is up against the concrete flood walls and levees and seeping through the closed floodgates. At a location where my father had a plant in 1973, the flood waters are part way up the levee and preventing access to the service companies occupying the river front. All of the oil service and seafood businesses along the water front in Morgan City and Berwick are closed down and under water.
Atchafalaya River in Berwick, location where my (Wilma Subra's) father had a plant in 1973. The oil service company is closed down and the facility is under water.
On the lower Atchafalaya River below Berwick at the end of the Berwick River Road, the end of road access along the Atchafalaya River, the boat landing and parking area are under water. Boaters struggled to used the flooded facility before the facility is shut down in the next day or two. This is the boat landing where we, the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper and Louisiana Environmental Action, launched their boat on August 2, 2010, to perform investigations of the presence of crude oil in the environment, from the BP Crude Oil Disaster, along the Atchafalaya River and Gulf of Mexico. See LMRK e alert for the results.
The concrete flood walls and levees fronting the Atchafalaya River in Morgan City are designed to address the flood stage as the river reaches its crest during the week of May 22, 2011. However, backwater flooding from the Atchafalaya River threatens to flood other areas of Morgan City. The threat of back water flooding from Lake Palourde into Morgan City was being addressed by the National Guard as they were in the process of installing 10,000 feet of HESCO barriers along Lake Palourde and adjacent to Highway 70. The HESCO barriers were being installed in areas where the levee system was inadequate and where the levee system was nonexistent.
HESCO Bags installed along Highway 70 to prevent backwater flooding from Lake Palourde into Morgan City.HESCO Bags installed along Highway 70 to prevent backwater flooding from Lake Palourde into Morgan City.
In Lakeside Subdivision in Morgan City HESCO Baskets were installed along the vulnerable three sides of the Subdivision which fronts on Lake Palourde. Residents in the subdivision also sand bagged their homes and some residents chose to relocate their possessions. Residents in other areas of Morgan City near levees fortified with HESCO Baskets also used sand bags to provide extra protection for their homes.
Moving truck and trailer being used to relocate possessions from a home in an area of Morgan City vulnerable to back water flooding.
Stephensville, Lower St. Martin Parish
In Stephensville in lower St. Martin Parish along Highway 70 north of Morgan City, the community is vulnerable to backwater flooding from the Atchafalaya River water. The community was in a state of panic and high alert. The situation in Stephensville was very similar to the situation in the community of Butte LaRose in upper St. Martin Paris. The community of Butte LaRose, which is located within the Atchafalaya Basin, was notified that their community would be flooded with up to 15 feet of water when the Morganza Spillway was opened. In Stephensville, the flooding would come from backwater flooding when the Morganza Spillway was opened.
Most of the homes in the Stephensville area are located along bayous and waterways which provide water front access. The homes are permanent homes and camps or second homes. The community was notified that it would be flooded by the backwaters and the only road access, Highway 70, would be flooded and closed. The roads winding through the community were clogged with residents removing all of their possessions from their homes and large sand trucks dumping sand at locations through out the community. The sand was being quickly used up by residents filling sand bags and sandbagging their homes. Sandbags were also being placed along the shores of the water bodies to contain the floodwaters. Throughout the community, the scene was of large numbers of individuals working very hard to protect their homes. The entire community was stressed and appeared to be a disaster area in progress, instead of the pleasant water front community it usually was.
Home in Stephensville surrounded by sand bags.
Stephensville Elementary School along Highway 70 was the scene of the installation of large tube barriers being installed to protect the school complex. The St. Martin Parish School Board had announced that the Stephensville Elementary School would close early, May 17, 2011, due to the flooding situation. Prison labor was working with contractors to install and fill the tube barrier with water. The drinking water source was being used to fill the tubes. Community members were concerned about the low water pressure in the community as the tubes were being filled.
Stephensville Elementary School surrounded by a tube barrier filled with water for flood protection.
Amelia is located along the Intracoastal Waterway and Bayou Boeuf on the eastern end of St. Mary Parish. The Amelia area will be inundated with backwater flooding from Bayou Chene. The community was very calm with houses surrounded by sandbags. The National Guard was working throughout the community. The National Guard had staging areas from which they were working to install 3,000 feet of HESCO Baskets along Bayou Boeuf, hauling sand and equipment into the small streets of the mostly Vietnamese community and constructing levees along Lake Palourde.
HESCO Baskets installed along Bayou Boeuf in Amelia.
One of the graveyards in Amelia, located adjacent to Bayou Boeuf, had love ones installing sandbags around and on graves to protect vaults from being impacted by the surge of the flood waters. The Amelia community was calmly preparing for the floodwaters that will come to their community due to backwater flooding and wonder if they will be required to evacuate.
Grave surrounded by and topped with sand bags in a graveyard adjacent to Bayou Boeuf in Amelia.
Gibson and Bayou Black, Terrebonne Parish
The communities of Gibson and Bayou Black in Terrebonne Parish will be subject to backwater flooding as the Morganza Spillway opens and allows Mississippi River water to flow down the Atchafalaya Basin. Residents were on edge with the unknown threat of the back water flooding. The area was flooded by backwater flooding in 1973 when the Morganza Spillway was opened for the first time.
Homes in Gibson and Bayou Black were surrounded by sandbags and community members were preparing for the floodwaters. Many people stood in very long lines to get additional sandbags. Trucks continued to haul in additional sand. Heavy equipment was being used to constructing new dirt levees in low areas vulnerable to flooding. Waterways were being lined with sandbags to contain the floodwaters. The area contains a large number of water bodies, bayous and drainage ditches. The task of containing floodwaters from backwater flooding seems daunting. And yet the community continues to work at the task, while wondering if and/or when they will be required to evacuate. The projection is that the backwater flooding will reach Gibson and Bayou Black five days after the Morganza Spillway is opened.
Construction of dirt levee in Gibson to protect a low vulnerable area.
The floodwaters flowing into the Atchafalaya Basin from the Morganza Spillway are estimated to reach Interstate 10 this afternoon, New Iberia, Monday (May 16, 2011 and Morgan City, Tuesday (May 17, 2011). The people in the Atchafalaya Basin and in the areas to be impacted by the backwater flooding from the Atchafalaya River flood waters wonder why they were chosen to be inundated by flood waters in order to save Baton Rouge and New Orleans.