465 to reopen today as floodwater recedes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 3, 2009

As the Mississippi River continues to retreat from late-season flooding, Mississippi 465 is expected to reopen this afternoon and the gates of the Steele Bayou Control Structure could be opened as early as Thursday afternoon — initiating the draining of 404,000 acres of flooded forest and farmland north of Vicksburg.

The Mississippi River measured 45.8 feet at the city this morning, a fall of a half-foot in a 24-hour period. The river topped flood stage of 43 fleet on May 13 and crested two weeks later at 47.5 feet. It is forecast to recede below flood stage Monday.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation is aiming to have Mississippi 465 officially reopened sometime this afternoon, said Richard Winans, road manager for Warren County. Several cars were seen driving around roadblocks on Tuesday, as the water had almost completely receded off the roadway.

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A large portion of the two-lane road between the Eagle Lake community and U.S. 61 North typically goes under water when the river stage reaches 46.5 feet. Eagle Lake residents have been forced to use a narrow gravel levee to access the highway since the road has been under water. It has been closed since May 20, and was closed for one month during flooding last year.

Meanwhile, slightly more than a half-foot of water was being held out of the backwater area as of this morning. The river side water stage is at 94.3 feet and the land side stage measures 93.7, said Corps Chief of Water Control Robert Simrall.

Bordered in by a series of levees, the 4,093-square-miles of forest and farmland comprising the backwater area act as a giant bathtub when the gates of Steele Bayou — the area’s lone drainage point — are closed. Any rainfall over the area increases flooding inside the structure, and the gates of Steele Bayou must be kept closed until the river side stage is lower than the land side.

The gates of the Steele Bayou have been closed since May 10. The Corps had estimated the land side stage could reach as high as 94 feet, but Simrall said a spate of dry weather has been a welcome surprise for backwater area farmers.

“It’s been a good 10 days since they’ve had any significant rain,” he said. “We lucked out by 3/10ths of a foot — which doesn’t sound like much, but probably saved several thousand addition acres of land from flooding.”

Even at 93.7 feet, it is the worst flooding in the backwater area since 1997, when the land side stage reached 93.3 feet. The backwater area has not surpassed 94 feet since 1983 — the second-worst flooding event since the levees were completed in 1978 — when land side stages reached 95.8 feet.

In 2008, Steele Bayou was closed March 13 and reopened May 8, at which point the water stage inside the structure was 92.3 feet and the Corps estimated a total of 344,000 acres of forest and farmland were flooded. It was the fifth-worst flood event in the backwater area since 1978.

Pumps to remove the impounded water in the backwater area have been part of Corps levee system planning since 1941, but have not been approved or fully funded. The latest version of the plans were vetoed by the Environmental Protection Agency in late 2008.

The river at Vicksburg topped flood stage at the city on March 29 last year, crested at 50.9 feet on April 21 and remained above flood stage until May 10. It was the highest measured river stage recorded at the city in 35 years, dating back to 1973 when the river topped out at 51.6 feet.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com