Dropping water level brightens outlook for farmers|[04/28/08]

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 28, 2008

Despite up to 2 inches of weekend rainfall, the outlook grew a bit brighter for South Delta farmers today with a revised forecast showing 2 feet less water may accumulate where they grow cotton, corn and soybeans before drainage gates can be opened.

About an inch of rain fell overall in and around Vicksburg, said Marty Pope of the National Weather Service this morning. Heavier totals were recorded immediately north, in Issaquena County, Pope said, measuring about 2 inches. That rain will accumulate inside levees until the Mississippi River falls enough to allow gates at the Steele Bayou Control Structure to be opened so the impounded water can drain.

Ten-day forecasts indicate normal or less than normal precipitation, “There’s no indication of a widespread rain event locally,” Pope said.

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Mississippi RiverTODAY’S STAGE: 50.3 feetFELL: 0.3 footFLOOD STAGE: 43 feetSTEELE BAYOU:Landside: 91.2Riverside: 99.4

Weekend rain resulted in the landside reading at Steele Bayou rising 0.1 foot to 91.2 feet today.

Robert Simrall, chief of water control for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District, now estimates a later top-out date for levels on the landside 2 feet lower. That date, Simrall said, depends on the Mississippi River dropping another 7 feet.

“We expect the land side to go to 92 feet by May 7,” Simrall said, adding the gates on the structure north of Vicksburg off Mississippi 465 will be opened in “mid- to late May.”

A specific date will be determined as the Corps’ forecast window progresses, he said.

Officials had earlier expected flood waters on the land side to top out at 94 feet by May 10, which would have idled tens of thousands more acres.

Gates on the structure were closed March 13 to keep the rising Mississippi out of the Delta. There was a steady rise on the riverside of the gates until last week. Today, the level on the riverside fell to 99.4 feet from 99.7 feet Sunday. That mirrored the drop on the Mississippi, which was down to 50.3 feet today from a crest at 50.9, the highest since 1973.

Rain this far South has little effect on the river itself. “Fairly normal rainfall will allow the river to drop,” Pope said.

Flood PhotosSlideshowGalleryWhile the Mississippi has been falling slowly – only 0.6 feet since its crest nine days ago — the pace will soon increase. Memphis recorded a 1.5-foot drop today and the decline at Helena measured 1.8. Greenville and Arkansas city also fell almost a foot today.

Some corn is already a foot or higher in non-flood areas, but summer crops, especially cotton and soybeans, can be planted as late as the end of June for a fall harvest.