River climbs as Midwest drains, but effect here to be minimal|[06/24/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The rising Mississippi River has forced the closure of the Steele Bayou Control Structure gates, but farmers and officials do not anticipate major flooding as the river is expected to crest this week 3 feet below flood stage at Vicksburg.

“We may have a small amount of land go under around here; maybe a couple of hundred acres,” said Doug Jeter, who farms land off of Chickasaw Road, one of the first areas to flood near Vicksburg when the river is high.

During the spring flood, Jeter lost his entire 150-acre wheat crop. He planted some soybeans in early June, but said he’s still waiting for the land to soften some before he can plant on all his land. Warren County received about 2 fewer inches of rain than normal this spring.

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“We really need some rain,” he said.

Robert Simrall, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chief of water control in Vicksburg, said the gates of the Steele Bayou structure could be opened as early as July 10. They were closed June 13 to keep the rising river from backing into the 4,093 square miles of land known as the Yazoo Backwater Area.

Mississippi RiverFlood Stage: 43 feetToday: 39.5 feetYesterday 39.4 feetRose: 0.1 footSteele Bayou:Inside: 84.4Outside: 86.8″Mostly it’s wooded areas,” Simrall said. “There’s some farmland flooded behind the structure, but not nearly as much as this spring.”

The Steele Bayou Control Structure is the lone drainage point for the backwater area, which is surrounded by levees. When the gates of the structure are closed the levees act as walls of a giant bathtub, leaving any rain that falls over the area with nowhere to go.

The structure was last closed on March 13 and reopened on May 8, at which point the water stage inside the structure was 92.1 feet and the Corps estimated a total of 344,000 acres of forest and farmland in the backwater area were flooded. The gates are closed when the riverside water stage of the structure is higher than the landside, and can be re-opened only when the riverside stage falls below the landside stage.

Today, the riverside stage is 86.8 feet, while the landside reads 84.4 feet, meaning nearly 2.5 feet of water is being held out of the backwater area.

During spring flooding, the river at Vicksburg topped flood stage of 43 feet on March 29, and crested at 50.9 feet on April 19. It was the highest recorded river stage in Vicksburg since 1973.

The river is expected to crest Thursday at 40 feet. The recent rises are a result of the historical flooding that is still affecting portions of the Midwest, where water measured up to 20 feet above flood stage in some cities. Marty Pope, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Jackson, said there are a variety of reasons why the widespread flooding in the Upper Mississippi River will not have a major impact on the Vicksburg river stage.

“Below Cairo, the Mississippi River widens and deepens tremendously and can take on a great volume of water,” he said. “Also, the Ohio River is falling out steadily, which was not the case during the spring flooding.”

The river is cresting at Helena today and falling at Memphis.