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Possibility of spillway opening concerns farmers, those along Atchafalaya River

Posted at 10:09 PM, May 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-24 15:03:46-04

Governor John Bel Edwards is seeking a federal emergency declaration to assist those who will be impacted.

“It is, however, fair to say that the Morganza Spillway will more likely than not be opened,” said the governor in a news conference Thursday afternoon.

The Mississippi River Commission will ultimately make the final decision on whether or not to open the spillway by May 28th. The commission along with the Army Corps of Engineers and other state officials are monitoring the inundation maps, seeing the flow rate of the river and how high the water is rising.

For only the third time in history, the spillway could be opened as early as June 2nd and stay open until possibly mid-July.

For a complete breakdown of the possible opening of the Morganza Spillway, click here: A Breakdown of the Possible Morganza Spillway Opening

The goal is to alleviate flooding along the Mississippi River. Officials say water will eventually overtop the Morganza Spillway and cause greater flooding if it is not opened.

But opening the spillway will bring more water along the Atchafalaya River, starting with farmland, just south of Morganza in St. Landry Parish.

When the spillway opened in 2011, dry land helped avoid disaster. But this year, with so much rain recently, the land is heavily saturated.

“And the question is are we concerned? Well, yeah we’re concerned about what will happen,” said Vaughn Goudeaux, who lives in a camp along the Atchafalaya River in Krotz Springs. “You have backwater come up on us and we can have rises. We’re saturated already, we’re seeing water from what was a pond, looks more like a lake back there.”

Some in the area are nervous about the weeks ahead. Including Frankie Cottano, a retired farmer who flooded when the spillway was opened in 2011 and 1973.

“There’s nothing you can really do,” he said. “The water backs up and where we farmed we had a levy around the field and pumps, and the water would go around the levees and the pumps wouldn’t handle it and you just lose the crop.”

The state, now warning farmers to prepare and make arrangements to move livestock and equipment, as well as take pictures of crops for insurance.

Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain says there are about 25,000 acres of farmland in the flood zone and if the spillway is opened, all the crops would be a total loss.

The federal government has ownership of most of the land because of the spillway, and flood insurance will cover about 60% of what is lost.

“We don’t know how high it’s going to get but we do expect it’s going to be open for a while, so the longer the water is there, those particular crops cannot recover. So we do expect probably a total loss of all the crops that have been planted and probably a loss of the entire season,” said Strain.

For now, officials and those who could be impacted are keeping a close eye on the rising water.

“It’s a thing you just have to wait, wait and see what happens. Hopefully, there’s no more rain,” said Goudeaux.

The LDAF is preparing to assist with search and rescue operations to deal with animal issues, and people with household pets should be prepared to evacuate with their pets. Please remember to have supplies and vaccination records with you, if possible.

Livestock owners who need assistance should call their local Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP).

Crop damage as a result of the opening of the spillway should be reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA). Assessments will be conducted by the LSU AgCenter.

For more information on emergency preparation for livestock, go to www.LDAF.la.gov  or www.getagameplan.org