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May 9, 2011 4:09 PM

So What is the Morganza Spillway Exactly?

The Morganza Spillway was completed in 1954, but has only been opened once, in 1973. It's located 35 miles northwest of Baton Rouge. It consists of two structures, designed to pass up to 600,000 cubic feet per second of water to the Gulf of Mexico. The goal is to relieve pressure off levees in Baton Rouge and New Orleans by diverting water into the Morganza Floodway, where it joins with the Atchafalaya Floodway, where it then goes to the Gulf of Mexico.

Governor Bobby Jindal: "Col. Ed Flemming, New Orleans District Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, officially requested the Mississippi River Commission in Vicksburg to partially open the Morganza Spillway over the weekend. We know Army Corps Gen. Walsh is going to the Bonnet Carre Spillway today and Corps Col. Flemming is set to meet with him on his request to open Morganza, meaning there could be a final decision by the Corps on operating this structure as soon as today.

"The Corps also released Inundation Maps outlining possible areas that will be impacted by the operation of the Morganza Floodway. They expect the height of the water to reach between five and upwards of 25 feet above ground elevation, causing flooding through many southern portions of our state. Today, we are meeting with local officials in and around Krotz Springs, Butte La Rose and Morgan City who are expected to be impacted, and we are preparing all state agencies to assist in the evacuation of areas that must be evacuated and flood fighting and response operations as needed to assist citizens and protect property.

"LANG deployed senior leaders to assist parishes directly threatened by the possible opening of the Morganza Spillway last Friday. In conjunction with the Louisiana State Police and the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, these teams coordinated with Sheriffs and Emergency Directors through the weekend to ensure that Louisiana National Guard efforts are synchronized with parish efforts to notify all residents within the areas threatened by the possible opening of the Morganza Spillway.

"The Louisiana National Guard is mobilizing an additional 175 Guardsmen to prepare for the possible opening of the Morganza Spillway - bringing the total Guardsmen activated to around 400 by the end of today. These additional Guardsmen will augment parish efforts to inspect levees and local law enforcement efforts to conduct "door to door" notifications.

"In support of St. Mary Parish this weekend, LANG also transported 87 pallets of HESCO baskets from the East Jefferson Levee District to St. Mary Parish. This morning, we have Guardsmen and equipment on-site to support parish efforts to construct approximately 13,000 feet of flood protection barrier in Amelia and Morgan City. In St. Martin Parish, the Sheriff has begun notifying residents who may be impacted by the possible opening of Morganza by putting 879 voluntary evacuation notices on the doors of homes in the Butte La Rose area.

"We have asked the Coast Guard for air assets from Mobile, AL that can patrol and pinpoint any people who remain on the ground after possible evacuations. The Coast Guard has specific equipment that will be important to this effort.

"Our first priority is absolutely the safety of residents and our second priority is to protect property wherever we can."
The Governor said if the Spillway is opened, DOTD will close the portion of La. 1 that crosses the Morganza Spillway and perform an inspection of the structure prior to allowing traffic to flow. DOTD, the Corp and State Police are developing a traffic management plan to ensure the least amount of disruption to the traveling public. DOTD has placed "No Parking Signs" on the spillway to prevent parking and discourage motorists from stopping to view the water flow.

Additionally, based on the potential opening of the Spillway, the U.S. 190 Morganza Spillway bridge repair project is on hold and the mats placed for equipment to access the work site are being removed from the floodway. DOTD will monitor state roadways that have been identified as being affected by the possible opening of the Spillway and close roads as appropriate.

On Friday, DNR's Office of Conservation sent notice by email and conducted a conference call with oil and gas operators in the AtchafalayaBasin to alert them to the potential opening of the Morganza Spillway.

On Saturday, after receiving the projected inundation footprint outside the Basin from the Corps, DNR distributed an email alert to operators within the footprint notifying them of the potential for rising waters as predicted by the Corps if the Morganza were opened. This area outside the AtchafalayaBasin includes over 1,750 wells and more than 135 operators. Safety is a top concern on these structures as the Spillway is opened.

DNR's Fuel Team has been activated and identified two refineries that could be significantly impacted by high water. For the large refinery on the Mississippi River, this could result in reducing operating capacity to 75 percent for two weeks and then further significant reductions in operating capacity.

DNR's Office of Coastal Management is working closely with the Corps, St. Mary Parish, the Levee District, OCPR and others on an Emergency Use Authorization to locate and sink a barge on Bayou Shane to mitigate back water flooding when the Morganza Spillway is opened. They received verbal approval of this request today.

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