Sand boils keep levee watchers on alert|[04/16/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The scene in Louisiana along the Mississippi River is less dramatic than around Vicksburg and Warren County. No homes are taking on water and no families are being forced to evacuate. No businesses are shut down, and no wildlife is stranded on small islands of remaining high ground. However, seepage and sand boils have created planting problems for many riverside farmers in Louisiana as well as a flood of rumors among residents who are protected by the levee.

“All of the residents have been alarmed. They see us going out with all these sandbags and the rumors start flying,” said Reynold Minsky, president of the Fifth Louisiana Levee Board, which oversees the levee throughout East Carroll, Madison, Tensas and Concordia parishes. “There’s nothing to be alarmed about. People need to settle down.”

Minsky estimated 50 sand boils have been found along the Louisiana levee, and it has taken some 75,000 sandbags to control them and the seepage occurring along the levee. A boil occurs when seep water goes beneath the levee at a fast enough rate to carry with it sediment, usually sand.

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“We don’t mind the seep water coming in, there’s no way to stop that, but what we don’t want is the sand to come out with it because it can undermine the integrity of the levee,” explained Peter Nimrod, chief engineer for the Mississippi Levee Board, who said more than 30 boils have been located on Mississippi levees from about an hour north of Greenville to Vicksburg.

To keep sand from seeping through with the water, sandbags are piled around the sand boil about 18 inches high. A pool of water is allowed to fill up within the sandbags, and the pressure created by the pool of water keeps the sand from coming through the boil.

Sand boils become more problematic as the river rises simply because the higher the river is, the more water pressure there is on the levees and the more boils are created.

The river reading at Vicksburg today is 50.3 feet, a rise of 0.3 foot from Tuesday. Flood stage at the city is 43 feet. Tuesday, the forecast crest was raised and its date pushed back once again. The river is now predicted to top out at 51 feet on Saturday — a half-foot higher and day later than the previous forecast.

“The seepage is getting worse than it was in ’73, but it’s still what we expect to see with river levels this high,” he said. “There’s probably over 10,000 acres that have been flooded from the seepage. It’s keeping farmers from planting crops in those fields, they’re too saturated.” Comparisons between the Flood of 2008 and the Flood of 1973 are becoming more common. The crest 35 years ago was at 51.6 feet, a mere 0.6 feet more than this year’s predicted crest.

An estimated 240,000 acres of cropland are under water in Mississippi due to flooding.

Robert Simrall, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg Division chief of water control, said the half-foot rise in the crest will not affect a great deal of additional crops in Warren County, primarily because there are not many local fields that are not already idled by inundation.

“Basically everything between the hill line and the levee is already under water,” he said. “There’s not going to be more acreage under water, but there’s going to be a big impact in that water is going to get in more peoples’ homes and get higher in their homes.”

A higher river also means the gates of the Steele Bayou Structure will have to stay closed longer, leaving the farmland protected from river water by the structure even more vulnerable to flooding by rainfall.

The Steele Bayou Control Structure near Mississippi 465 is the drainage point for 4,093 square miles of timber and farmland known as the Yazoo backwater area. The structure’s gates have been closed since March 13 to keep out Mississippi River water, but the “bathtub” it creates is filling.

Today the water stage on the landside of the structure is at 90.9 feet, while the riverside is at 99.5 feet. That means nearly 9 feet of floodwater is being held out of the Yazoo backwater area. The gates of the Steele Bayou Structure cannot be opened until the riverside stage is lower than the landside. Forecasters have estimated it will take upward of three to four weeks for the river to recede to below flood stage at Vicksburg.

With normal rainfall through May 13, the Corps expects floodwaters on the landside of the structure will top out at 94 feet on May 10. With no rain over the Yazoo backwater area, the landside was forecast to top out at 91.5 feet on April 15.

“At 94 feet we’ll start to see some homes flooded in the backwater area,” said Nimrod.

Friday, the Corps is hosting a public meeting for residents and land owners in the Eagle Lake community to discuss the Muddy Bayou Structure. That structure is currently closed, and is holding out high water from the Yazoo backwater area from entering and flooding Eagle Lake.

“There’s been rumors that we’re going to open up the Muddy Bayou Structure and flood Eagle Lake, none of which are true,” said Simrall. “Eagle Lake used to be a community of a lot of fishing camps and weekenders, but in the last 10 years it’s just exploded in the number of full-time residents, many of whom don’t really know what the control structures do. This meeting is going to allow us to describe what the structures do, and what they don’t do.”

Since the river at Vicksburg topped flood stage of 43 feet on March 29:

At least 132 residents have been displaced from 71 inundated homes in Vicksburg, according to city emergency management officials.

An estimated 240,000 acres of cropland have been submerged throughout Mississippi, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District Hydraulic Technician Waylon Hill. An additional 100,000 acres could go under by the time the river crests, if the forecast holds at 51 feet on Saturday.

Most of the 1,300-person work force at LeTourneau Technologies remained laid off as the road to the riverside offshore rig construction site is under water and has been closed since April 8.

Crossties have been placed in all of the openings on the Vicksburg floodwall, closing off City Front.

Roadways in Vicksburg and Warren County covered with water and closed include Williams Street, Ford Road, Eva Street, Chickasaw Road, Long Lake Road, Thompson Lake Road, Kings Point Road, LeTourneau Road and Mississippi 465.

Mississippi RiverCREST FORECAST51 feet on SaturdayTODAY’S STAGE:50.3 feetROSE:0.3 footFLOOD STAGE:43 feetIf you goThe U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District is encouraging Eagle Lake residents and property owners to attend a meeting hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District to discuss improvements to the Muddy Bayou Control Structure and to advise residents about the purpose of the structure and how it is used. The meeting will take place Friday at the district headquarters building in Vicksburg, 4155 E. Clay St., and will begin at 6 p.m.Flood PhotosSlideshow of All Photos