Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Changes at Morganza

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BATON ROUGE - A change of protocol is being considered by The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for how the Morganza floodway is operated.

Thursday, the Corps presented a proposal to a group of people in Baton Rouge. The changes include operating at a different water level the next time there is a major flood event.

"We want to use it in a way that is safer for our operators and for the public and in a way that's not going to damage it as much as what we saw in 2011," said Mike Stack, Army Corps Chief of Emergency Management.

In May 2011, water rushed through the gates at the Marganza structure. The Corps said it waited until the water was inches from the top, at 59.6 feet, before taking action. The structure is 60 feet tall. It created a challenge and proved difficulty when it came time to lift the gates and let the water flow through to the spillway.

Following the event, there was more than $20 million worth of damage including large holes in the ground.  The damage was caused from the rushing water. In some places, the holes were 35 feet deep.

"We want to avoid that situation in the future, we don't want to have that operational concern up front and we don't want to induce that scour, that structural damage, or potential structural damage as we're operating the structure," said Stack.

Instead of watching and reacting when the water gets high, the Corps would like to anticipate the change. The proposal would include working off a 10-day forecast of the water coming down the river. It would also mean opening the gates at 57 feet.

"That's the number that we feel can minimize the scour to make sure that we're not digging those holes behind the structure during operation," said Stack.

In 2011, because of the holes created by the moving water, the structure only operated at about one third of capacity. The Corps believe these changes, with the addition of alternating the spill gates, will improve the structure's operation.

With approval, the Corps plans to implement these changes by next flood season.

Some members of the audience at Thursday's meeting were more concerned about a proposed river flow study.  It would study the movement of the river and could impact levees and land along with flooding concerns.  A study of this magnitude has not been done for decades.

State Rep. Major Thibaut said he and his constituents are more concerned about the mandated 70/30 split that determines how much water flows down the Mississippi River and how much water gets diverted down the Atchafalaya.

The study will take 3-4 years, depending on funding.


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