By Kevin Pritchett
High level meetings are underway at the Mississippi River Commission headquarters in Vicksburg, Ms., according to James Pogue, Chief of Memphis Public Affairs.
The USACE press release yesterday put everyone back on guard for a potential nightmare scenario setting up on the Ohio River Cairo gauge perhaps forcing the use of the Birds Point New Madrid Floodway once again.
As a result of the activation of the Birds Point New Madrid Floodway in early May, three breaches were crevassed with explosives. Two of those – the Lower and the Middle – according to Pogue, have been put back to the interim 55’ grade. Of obvious importance, however, is the Upper Crevasse that ran for approximately 9,000 foot along the levee.
According to Pogue, “99% of the upper crevasse is at 51’; 15 percent is at the interim 55’.”
The BPNMF levees stand at 62.5’ at all other parts along the main line and set back levees except the three segments designated as inflow/outflow which stood at 60.5.
I asked Pogue what sections of the upper crevasse have been put to 55’ and he instructed me to call Major Korneliussen for specifics of the construction.
I have a phone call in to the Major this morning at 10:00 a.m.; expect to speak with him this afternoon.
As for the brewing crisis, the culprits remain the same. A wet, soggy pattern running thru the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys is bringing the gauge up at Cairo – 43.6 (Tuesday, Dec. 6) with an expected crest of 44′ Thursday, Dec. 8.
However, the bad news continues. Another major rain event is in the near-term forecast and NWS models show an above average rainfall pattern expected thru the winter in the impacted sectors.
Pogue assessed the situation as fluid.
“We’re not going to let our guard down now. (USACE) will watch things carefully and be ready
to respond. We’ll be able to get the upper crevasse to 55’ using the bastions and that sort of materials to get us through winter.
“Now, we’re looking at the practicality to flood fight if it gets above 55’.”
That’s’ what the meetings today in the MRC are concerned with.
It’s also what has farmers; citizens and governments officials in Mississippi County concerned. The county was just getting back to some sense of normalcy with crops being harvested from places water stood in May.
It’s one thing to witness the original activation May 2 and all that encompassed. It’s quite another to watch it all go down again as a result of the hole left in the levee created by that blast.
Agreement had been reached that satisfied most to hit the interim mark of 55’. And, that would have been accomplished by the USACE had not inclimate weather interfered.
Mother Nature again is dealing the cards.
THIS is the USACE press release from Monday, Dec. 5
Possibility of renewed flooding in Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway area
MEMPHIS, Tenn., DEC. 5, 2011 – Based on National Weather Service forecasts of unseasonably high river levels, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers advises citizens with interests in the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway that a significant risk of renewed flooding in that area exists for the near future.
According to the Weather Service, a strong La Niña weather pattern over the United States has been, and is expected to continue to bring, heavy rains weekly to the Lower Mississippi River Valley along with the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland river basins through the middle of December. The La Niña will continue to bring the likelihood of above normal precipitation through spring.
“Unfavorable weather conditions prevented us from reaching our target gage of 51 feet on the Cairo gage at the middle crevasse near Big Oak Tree State Park by Nov. 30,” Col. Vernie Reichling, commander of the Corps’ Memphis District said. “However, we did reach this level of protection on Dec. 3 and continued placement of clay material to a level of 55 feet.
“At the upper crevasse we achieved the 51-foot level of protection by Nov. 30 as targeted,” Col. Reichling continued. “Weather conditions, however, continue to hamper our ability to achieve our revised target of 55 feet using normal levee construction techniques. As such, I have directed workers to preposition supplies and equipment that will allow us to reach a 55-foot level of protection with temporary construction methods.”
Materials to be prepositioned for a temporary levee include supplies like HESCO bastions (large collapsible wire mesh containers with heavy duty fabric liners filled with sand), sand bags and plastic sheeting. These materials can be used to quickly raise the levee height. The HESCO bastions and related work can be done around the clock and would not be as dependent upon favorable weather conditions as conventional levee construction is.
Concurrently, Corps employees will also continue to raise the levee by placing clay as weather conditions permit. Recent heavy rains in the area of the Floodway have stopped this work several times in the last few weeks and slowed progress.
Citizens in the area are urged to stay in touch with their local authorities, and closely monitor river forecasts from the National Weather Service and additional information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They should be prepared to take whatever measures they believe are necessary to safeguard their lives and property.
“The Corps’ number one priority is and remains public safety,” Col. Reichling said.
In late October, Corps officials said that level of protection leaves about a 6 percent chance of a flood that would overtop the levee in any given year at the 55′ grade..
More later after my talk with the Major…