Bonnet Carré Spillway projects to open as soon as this week

While nothing is yet official, the Bonnet Carré Spillway projects to be opened for the third time in two years, perhaps by the end of this week.

The Army Corps of Engineers has notified St. Charles Parish President Matt Jewell and the parish’s Emergency Operations Center that projections indicate the potential need to open the spillway as early as Friday, April 3, according to Samantha deCastro, parish communications director.

Unlike past openings, this one would be closed to the public in order to prevent the gathering of large groups. No access will be permitted to the viewing site, and the three Spillway boat launches and Wetlands Watchers Park will close at noon on Thursday, April 2.

The Army Corps follows the National Weather Service Forecast to predict and plan for Mississippi River conditions to necessitate the opening of the spillway. Current projections indicate the flow of the river could exceed 1.25 million cubic feet per second, which is the trigger point for the Corps to make the recommendation to open the spillway. The structure’s job is to maintain consistent flow, take the excess and divert it into Lake Pontchartrain.

“When it reaches that level, we reach out to our stakeholders and we make the recommendation whether it should be operated or not,” said Army Corps spokesman Ricky Boyett, “We send that recommendation to the Commanding General of the Mississippi Valley Division. He makes that final decision … I can’t say it’s fully guaranteed, as that call hasn’t been made, but based on the forecast, we’d hit the trigger as early as Friday. We like to give as much notice as we can before that happens.

“The forecast can change, of course, but based on what we’re seeing, we’ll reach that trigger.”

An active decade

2019 marked the first time ever that the structure was opened twice in one calendar year. The impetus was the breaking of a record that stood for 92 years for the length of a Mississippi River flood stage. Record breaking rains in the eastern U.S. and fall storms were to blame for the extended flood stage that lasted into the summer.

An opening this week would mark just the 15th time the spillway has opened since 1937. But almost half of those instances will have come in just over a decade, as this would mark its seventh opening in the past 10 years, with five coming within the past five years.

Boyett said that rainfall in this area has little effect when it comes to creating these high river points.

“Here in South Louisiana, 44 percent of the country drains through us. So interestingly enough, rain in South Louisiana doesn’t really have an impact on river levels,” Boyett said. “But the rain in the Ohio and Missouri Valleys and those areas, the rain they’ve been getting is starting to get to us. That’s why we’ve seen that bump over the past couple of days.”