River crest forecast rises to 46 feet

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2005

[1/14/05]Vigilance is the watchword along the Mississippi River as levee boards and the Vicksburg District Corps of Engineers prepare for a new and higher river crest.

The new crest of 46 feet on Jan. 29, 3 feet above flood stage here, was announced Thursday by the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Slidell, La. The center had predicted a crest of 43.5 on Jan. 28.

Forecaster Jeff Graschel said more rain over the past couple of days across the upper reaches of the Mississippi River’s drainage area caused the crest to be raised.

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But, he said, cold, dry air behind the front may be good news. It should provide a gap in the rainfall that could let the rivers, primarily the Mississippi and Ohio, begin to fall.

“Our models show we should get a week, possibly two weeks” of dry weather, Graschel said.

Meanwhile, Clyde Scott, head of the Vicksburg District Emergency Operations Center, said the District will go to Phase One operations late next week when the Mississippi reaches 44 feet at Vicksburg. That means the District will begin working closely with the levee boards in the district to patrol levees and to get people and equipment ready in the event they are needed.

“We met with the District commander (Col. Anthony Vesay) yesterday to go over our plans and staffing requirements,” Scott said

The New Orleans District is already actively battling the effects of the high water.

The water is pushing sediment down the river, too, and that’s clogging up the shipping channels at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

“I’m burning money earlier and faster than previous years,” said Joaquin Mujica, the New Orleans Corps’ Mississippi River operations manager.

He said four hopper dredges are busy clearing Southwest Pass, the main point of entry to the river from the Gulf of Mexico.

“We have some pretty good water coming. It’s so early in the year, and that’s one of the things that is causing us some concern,” said Larry Banks, watershed division chief at the Mississippi River Commission-Mississippi Valley Division.

Already high waters have caused problems for river traffic on the Ohio River and minor flooding in low-lying areas outside the levees that hold the river’s water in.

“Last week we had 4 to 8 inches of rain over a good part of the lower Missouri, upper Mississippi and the Ohio river basins and that’s pushed river levels to well above flood stages,” Banks said. “It will put water into homes, camps, businesses along a 900-plus mile reach of the river.”

It’s too early to tell if the high waters are a sign of trouble ahead for this river valley that has seen devastating floods.