Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Great Flood of 2011 (Part VII)

Officials opened the Morganza spillway
at 3 p.m. today

Written by

Nicholas Persac

2:47 PM, May. 14, 2011|

Updated 3:15 p.m.

Officials opened the Morganza spillway around 3 p.m., letting 10,000 cubic feet of water per second pour through one of the structure's 125 bays.

Water from the first 24-hours of flooding because of the opening is not expected to reach any permanently inhabited communities, according to Col. Ed Fleming, commander of the New Orleans District of the Corps.

Fleming said many camps and recreational structures will be in the first day's flood path. He spoke during a news conference only half an hour before the Morganza spillway opened.

He said only one bay would be opened today. He said the slow opening of the spillway is for three purposes.

First, Fleming said a slow open will give
those living the affected areas time to evacuate.

Secondly, he said opening the spillway in slow increments will ensure the structure's backside is not scoured with too much water.

Finally, Fleming said opening only one bay first will give wildlife, like bears and deer, time to get to higher ground and find safety.

Fleming said the spillway could be open for "upwards of three weeks."

Fleming said he is comfortable the Morganza structure will be able to handle the rising waters as it is designed to do.

"I have no concerns about the Morganza structure," Fleming said.

Fleming said the spillway will operate at only about 25 percent of its capacity to release 600,000 cubic feet of water per second, but only one bay -- which releases
10,000 cubic feet of water per second --will be opened today.

Officials also closed the spillway to public access once the first bay opened.

Original story:

Officials will open the Morganza spillway at 3 p.m. today.

Col. Ed Fleming, commander of the New Orleans District of the Corps, said during a press conference that officials will start by opening one bay in the spillway, letting 10,000 cubic feet of water per second through the flood gates.

Fleming said the Morganza spillway, which has only been used once previously, will only be used at about 25 percent of its total capacity. At that limited used, about 150,000 cubic feet of water will flow through, while the entire spillway can handle 600,000 cubic feet per second.

He said the river's crest is expected to reach the spillway on May 24 and remain near that peak for as long as 14 days.

"There is no doubt that as we open up and go through a crest that this structure has the potential to be open for the better part of three weeks," Fleming said.

Fleming also said he does not have any concerns with the Corps ability to close the Morganza spillway's bays.

"It's important to remember we are here
with the communities fighting this flood shoulder to shoulder," Fleming said. "We will operate the spillway this afternoon, and we're here to continue the flood fight for as long as it takes."

U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Maj. General Michael Walsh said the federal government began creating a system to handle rising waters after the 1927 flood. He said 41 percent of the United States drains into this area, which is the third largest watershed in the world.

He said the system is designed to take water off the main stem of Mississippi River and into other areas. He said there is currently a tremendous strain on that system.

"These are water control programs we've been putting together for decades," Walsh said.

Walsh said "hundreds of scientists and engineers" considered a wide range of factors to help make the decision to open the Morganza spillway at 3 p.m. today.

Walsh said he spoke with Gov. Bobby Jindal before the press conference to say the Morganza spillway was going to be opened today.

"He's very supportive of the process and how we're going to move forward," Walsh said of his conversation with Jindal.

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