Yazoo backwater could hit 96 feet

Published 7:56 pm Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Additional local rainfall this weekend could raise the level in the Yazoo backwater to 95 or 96 feet, an official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District said.

The National Weather Service is predicting 1.25 to 1.5 inches of rain in the Vicksburg-Greenville area, with the Mississippi River set to crest Saturday at about 50.2 feet, about three-tenths of a foot below the previous forecast of 50.5 feet. As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the landside level of Steele Bayou is 94.2 feet. The Mississippi Wednesday was at 49.75. Flood stage is 43 feet.

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A drive on the backwater levee road between U.S. 61 North and the open end of Mississippi 465, which is presently the most direct route to the Eagle Lake community, gives an indication of how high the water in the backwater area has risen.

On the south side of the road, water is a few feet from the top of the levee. On the north, cattle and horses graze along open areas and high spots along the road. Deer dash across the road to get in the water and swim to a high point in the water.

Water laps at the edge of Mississippi 465 in some areas along the route to Eagle Lake.

The Corps closed the Steele Bayou Control Structure to keep the Mississippi River out of Steele Bayou once the river level exceeded the level in the bayou. The control structure was built in 1969 to provide backwater flood protection from the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers.

Once the gates closed, water that would usually drain into the Mississippi is held in the backwater area until the river level goes down and the gates can be reopened. Until then, rainfall can cause the water in the area to rise. 

“With water on the ground, we’re expecting 94 to 94.5 feet, with more rainfall, we’re expecting to go 95 or 96,” said Vicksburg District public affairs chief Greg Raimondo. “We would consider that (1.25 to 1.5 inches) normal rainfall. You’re going to continue to see it (the water level) rise. A 1/2-inch of rain is not a significant event at this point. It’s not anything.”

Once the river drops, he said, the gates will open.

“Right now, we’re holding back almost 5 feet of water (on the river side), so we need the river to drop to 45 feet at Vicksburg (reopen the gates). Right now the National Weather Service has that happening at the 25 or 26 of this month.” 

Marty Pope, hydrologist with the National Weather Service, said crest at Vicksburg could be lower than 50.2 feet.

“About 50.2 will probably be the max, but it looks like it will be somewhere between 50 and 50.1 feet,” he said.

He said a system passing through the mid-Mississippi Basin could drop between 1/2- to 1-inch of rain in the area around Cairo, Ill., “Which is really not going to do anything, considering a major recession (drop in level) through there.”

“As far as anything throughout the valley doing anything, it’s not too bad. It looks like this morning Arkansas City and Greenville are at near crest, which is good, because if we can get that crest below the Arkansas River, it does make things better.”

Pope said another reason for the lower predicted crest is the Arkansas River is not putting out as much water as forecasters anticipated, which affected the levels down stream.

He said the predicted 1.25- to 1.5-inch rain for this area could cause a slightly higher rise in the water level locally with Vicksburg cresting Saturday.

Pope said another favorable factor for the lower Mississippi Basin is the snow pack in the north has not shown any signs of melting.

“It’s still cold,” he said. “It’s not showing any signs of loosening up, and as long as we stay in the pattern we’re in, it’s going to stay pretty cool up through there for a little bit.

“Anything that goes across that part of the valley — Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin — is going to stay snow. There’s nothing showing any kind of big melts or anything like that coming,” Pope said.

“Definitely, nothing really shows any big warm ups up there, and that’s the key to it. What we don’t want to see is a big warm up up there that melts all the snow, it all comes down, and then we get hit with a late big rain in that middle valley.

“It’s going to take a long time for that (snow) water even if it did melt.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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