Protecting Louisiana with the Old River Control Complex

Nestled north of New Roads and Morganza stands an engineering marvel known as the Old River Control Complex.  This formidable structure, with a history spanning nearly six decades, comprises an intricate network of dams, channels, locks, and guide levees. Its primary mission: to maintain the Mississippi River on its current course and prevent it from diverting down the Atchafalaya River, a steeper and more direct route, according to this article from The Advocate.. The importance of this complex cannot be overstated, as it safeguards not only the local region but also the entire nation’s interests.

As the specter of climate change looms larger, the Old River Control Complex faces unprecedented challenges. To ensure its continued effectiveness, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to conduct a comprehensive inspection and, if necessary, undertake critical repairs. The focus of these repairs will be the Low Sill Control Structure, a vital component of the complex that suffered severe damage during the historic flooding of 1973.

McMillen Inc., a construction firm based in Boise, Idaho, has been awarded a substantial $34.2 million contract for the construction of a steel dam. This dam will serve the crucial purpose of sealing off the Low Sill Control Structure, allowing it to be dewatered for the first time since 1987 in preparation for the planned repairs scheduled for the upcoming year.

Colonel Cullen Jones, the commander of the Corps’ New Orleans District, emphasizes the significance of this undertaking. He remarks, “By keeping the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers on their current courses, the Old River Control Complex infrastructure is critical to both the region and the nation. This effort to inspect and repair the Low Sill structure will help ensure the integrity and successful operation of the complex for years to come.”

Without the Old River Control Complex, the Mississippi River would likely have succumbed to the relentless forces of nature and redirected itself down the Atchafalaya River. Such a scenario would have left Baton Rouge and New Orleans bereft of sufficient river water for commerce and, further south of Baton Rouge, deprived 1.2 million people of the freshwater they depend on. Recent weather patterns have intensified the need for these repairs. A scorching summer and an extended period of drought have caused the water levels in the Mississippi to plummet. This dry spell follows more than a decade of recurring and prolonged high-water episodes along the lower river.

To safeguard New Orleans, the Bonnet Carré Spillway has been opened upstream on 15 occasions, with six of those instances occurring since 2011 and four between 2018 and 2020, including two openings in 2019. Further upstream, near Morganza, the river reached an all-time record height in 2011, necessitating the activation of the Morganza Floodway for only the second time in its history. While this measure protects Baton Rouge and New Orleans, it inundated 25,000 acres of farmland as it flows toward the Atchafalaya River, eventually passing Morgan City.

The Old River Control Complex, strategically located at the confluence of the Mississippi, Red, and Atchafalaya rivers, has been performing its critical function since the 1950s. Comprising three major features—the Low Sill, Overbank, and Auxiliary structures—the complex effectively maintains a 70/30 downstream split between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, derived from the combined upstream waters of the Mississippi and the Red River.

In conclusion, the Old River Control Complex stands as a testament to human engineering prowess, tirelessly safeguarding the Mississippi River’s course. As it undergoes much-needed repairs and enhancements, the nation can rest assured that this critical infrastructure will continue to serve as a bulwark against the unpredictable forces of nature.

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Defending Drinking Water: The Mississippi River’s Underwater Barrier

In a significant stride towards protecting the region’s drinking water, a remarkable engineering feat has been accomplished as a dredging company finalized the construction of an underwater sill beneath the Mississippi River, according to this article from This massive structure, located at Myrtle Grove, will play a crucial role in safeguarding the public and industrial water supplies of upper Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, as well as the city of New Orleans, by blocking the intrusion of saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico.

Weeks Marine Inc., a New Jersey-based company, commenced dredging operations from an area on the right descending side of the river just upstream on July 11 and 12. Their J.S. Chatry cutterhead dredge, along with a fleet of smaller boats, worked tirelessly to maintain a surface and underwater pipeline for disposing of sediment on the river bottom. The Defense Department recognized the significance of this endeavor and awarded Weeks Marine’s Covington office an $8.9 million addition to their existing river dredging contract to finance the construction of this crucial dam for the protection of the regions drinking water.

To ensure unimpeded passage for ocean-going vessels, the sill was strategically designed to be 55 feet below the surface, while the river itself reaches a depth of about 90 feet at the dam’s location. This engineering marvel is situated at mile marker 63.7 above Head of Passes. The project faced challenges, and during the dredging operations, the U.S. Coast Guard implemented one-way traffic rules for a two-mile stretch along the river.

The urgency of this endeavor arose due to the recent retreat of saltwater, which had reached mile marker 52, thanks to heavy upriver rainfall over the past three weeks. However, there’s optimism in the forecasts from the National Weather Service’s Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, which predicts that water levels in the lower stretch of the river will continue to fall over the next 28 days. This bodes well for maintaining the integrity of the dam.

Despite these promising developments, the current water crisis in Plaquemines Parish still persists. Saltwater contamination remains an issue, affecting the water intake for the Boothville water treatment plant. To address this, the parish is actively distributing bottled water and ice to residents, mitigating the hardships caused by the contaminated supply.

Furthermore, the parish is working on multiple fronts to find solutions. A booster pump is under construction to facilitate the flow of water from the Belle Chasse water plant to Venice. However, this project encountered delays due to manufacturing and parts shortages, but it is expected to be completed during the week of August 14. Additionally, the Port Sulphur water treatment plant is undergoing repair work, and the parish is collaborating with the Corps to procure reverse osmosis equipment that will help remove saltwater at the Boothville and East Pointe a la Hache water plants.

The completion of the underwater dam comes as a significant relief for the region, as it now stands as a powerful shield, protecting the water intakes of crucial plants and industries along the river. However, it’s essential to understand that this is not a permanent solution. When the river experiences higher water levels and faster flow rates later in the year, saltwater may be pushed back towards the Gulf, and the dam could face erosion. Therefore, continuous monitoring and maintenance will be vital to ensure its long-term effectiveness.

In conclusion, the completion of the Mississippi River underwater dam marks a momentous occasion for Louisiana and its efforts to protect its vital drinking water sources. This achievement represents the collaboration of engineering expertise, government support, and a commitment to the well-being of the communities relying on this waterway. While challenges still lie ahead, the completion of the dam stands as a testament to the resilience and determination of Louisiana’s people in safeguarding their environment and resources for generations to come.

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Federal Funding for Louisiana’s “Hurricane Highway” Likely on the Way

Louisiana’s “Hurricane Highway” might finally be next in line to receive federal funds to repair a collection of widespread ecological damage from the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) shipping channel, according to this article from The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet shipping channel is a 76-mile channel constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the mid 20th century that provides a shorter route between ships traveling from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans’ inner harbor Industrial Canal via the Intracoastal Waterway, and ever since Hurricane Katrina struck the area in 2005, New Orleans residents have cursed the area, and state officials and activists have labeled it a “hurricane highway.”

It’s expected that Congress will soon approve legislation that will indicate that the federal government is responsible for financing a plan to restore wetlands eroded by the Mississippi River-Gulf outlet, or “Mr. Go,” as it’s often referred to. Despite the fact that the money would still need to be appropriated, the fact is that this years-long dispute over determining who should pay to restore the wetlands will finally come to a close. This note of legislative closure will be seen as a major victory for Louisiana officials, once passed.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who has worked closely on the issue in Congress, commented on this issue by saying, “overall in terms of ecological productivity and buffer, this is an important project that needs to happen, and it is mitigating the adverse impacts of the federal project that was the MRGO.” Rep. Graves was formerly the state’s point man on coastal restoration.

The provision of funds is only a part of broader legislation that will authorize water-related projects nationwide, and provided a list of the other Louisiana levee and flood protection projects that would be included in that authorization. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the legislation recently, and the Senate is expected to do the same in the coming days.

The shipping channel, which is 76-miles, was originally built as a shortcut from the Gulf of Mexico to the “doorstep” of New Orleans.  It has since been labeled a “hurricane highway” by Louisiana officials due to the fact that many storm surges were funneled through the MRGO during Hurricane Katrina, contributing to the devastating levee failure that allowed for the city to be inundated. While the Army Corps of Engineers has since reportedly downplayed the channel’s role during Katrina, MRGO’s long-term effects are still considered to run much deeper.

Since the channel fully opened in 1968, it has helped erode vast areas of marsh and wetlands in the passing decades. This has resulted in the damaging of the New Orleans area’s natural storm buffer and the alteration of the ecosystem at large. Additionally, saltwater intrusion through the MRGO, which was originally not used as heavily as was originally intended by the shipping industry, has aided in the destruction of cypress and tupelo swamp that once bordered the city of New Orleans.

Whenever the channel was closed in 2009 with the construction of a rock dam at Bayou La Loutre, it was disputed who should pay for the damage the channel left behind in its wake and where the funds should have originated from, making this recent indication of a nearby victory all-the-more encouraging.

Amanda Moore, the director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Program, is also the coordinator of the MRGO Must Go Coalition. She spoke about the issue by saying that this new legislation “marks a crucial milestone for addressing the disastrous legacy of the MRGO. More than 17 years after Hurricane Katrina, Congress has clarified its original intent – to fully and federally fund implementation of the MRGO ecosystem restoration plan.”

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Researchers To Study Mississippi Delta Mudslides

In 2004, an underwater mudslide collapsed a Taylor Energy oil platform after Hurricane Ivan struck the coast of Alabama; this mudslide caused the longest oil spill in U.S. history. According to this article from The Advocate, a team of LSU researchers is tasked with studying hurricanes and mapping the Mississippi River Delta in order to gain a better understanding of mudslides’ effects on offshore energy production.

The team of LSU researchers will be studying mudslides in the Gulf of Mexico, which will eventually lead to a better understanding of the effects of mudslides on offshore oil operations. In a statement, the marine geologist leading the team, Sam Bentley, pointed out the need for such an intensive study by saying, “the last major study like this was in the 1970s, and was also led by LSU.  Much has changed since then, from the seabed conditions to the tools used to map the seabed and the need for offshore energy infrastructure. The knowledge gaps and possible liabilities are huge.”

The team will produce a comprehensive map of the Mississippi River Delta in order to gauge and better understand when and where mudslides occur, which can help predict risk. The seabed that surrounds the portion of the Mississippi River Delta that splits into Southwest Pass, South Pass, and Pass a Loutre, which is colloquially referred to as “Louisiana’s bird’s foot” is the primary seabed area that will be mapped by the team. According to officials, this work will be the first comprehensive map of the delta front in over 40 years, showcasing just how necessary this project is.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will be providing about $3.8 million in funding for the project. This organization issues offshore space leases that allow the production of conventional and renewable energy. Along with BOEM, the other organizations involved are the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), the Water Institute of the Gulf, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Bentley also revealed that BOEM had asked his team 10 years prior to begin laying the groundwork for the study.

Kehui Xu, the LSU Coastal Studies Institute director and a professor in LSU’s Department of Oceanography & Coastal Science, spoke about the study by saying, “in the past, many surveys were done either before or after landslides, but not during landslides, which often happen when there are hurricanes and river floods. While regular sensors deployed before such events can be displaced, buried, or damaged, we will be working with the NRL to test and deploy some rugged and new sensors that can ‘travel with’ landslides.”

In order for an underwater mudslide to occur, loose sediment that’s set on an incline begins to slide downward all at once. This is often caused by waves and other shifting parts; however, larger mudslides often form due to the larger waves generated by storms and hurricanes. Marine Geologist Sam Bentley put this concept into practical perspective by saying, “imagine a kitchen board with pancake batter; if you want it to flow downslope, down a low angle… you can jiggle [the kitchen board]. When the Mississippi River dumps sediment out of the mouth, mud piles up right offshore. Sometimes, it piles up so steeply that it slides down of its own accord.”

Marine geologist Sam Bentley hopes that his team’s research will be able to assist energy companies in building their offshore projects in a safer way. Researchers hope to stock their equipment with necessary tracking capabilities so that smaller, slower changes in the seabed will also be detected–changes past surveys of the bird’s foot missed.

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