Mississippi River hits flood stage in Baton Rouge on Monday; decision on Bonnet Carré expected by Saturday

Those watching the water rise in the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge saw levels hit the 35-foot flood stage Monday, foreshadowing what people living south of the capital city can expect as the river continues to rise in the coming days and weeks.

In response to the rising water from heavy December rainfall upriver, the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority announced emergency regulations Monday that forbid vehicle and foot traffic on the river levees.

The rule helps give inspection teams, who are examining the levees daily, better access without having to work around recreational users and others trying to get a look at the river, according to the announcement. These restrictions include bike trails and walking paths and prohibits parking within 300 feet of the levee centerline. Restrictions announced in December, which forbid underground work within 1,500 feet of the levee, are still in place.

The state is asking for the public’s cooperation with the restriction, but the rule also allows severe penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation and up to $20,000 for a second violation. Enforcement is left up to the local levee district.

On Monday, water levels in New Orleans were at 13.5 feet and rising, expected to get to a crest of 17 feet by Saturday. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is studying whether it will be necessary to open the Bonnet Carré Spillway. A decision is expected by Saturday.

The Corps opens the Bonnet Carré when the river is flowing at 1.25 million cubic feet per second and expected to rise. The goal is to keep the river water levels from rising above 17 feet in New Orleans, where the levees protect to 20 feet.

In Morgan City, the Atchafalaya River was at 5.1 feet but expected to continue rising to a top level of 9.5 feet by Jan. 23. At that level, buildings on the river side of the protection walls in Morgan City and Berwick will be under water, and river traffic restrictions will be in place and enforced, according to the National Weather Service. During the 2011 flood, water reached 10.35 feet in Morgan City before starting to recede.

In time for the latest high water in rivers, people living in floodways of the Mississippi River also received their yearly notice as a reminder that the floodways could be opened if necessary.

The notice was sent by the Corps of Engineers to landowners, residents and people leasing property in the Bayou Des Glaises Loop, Old River Control Structure project area, West Atchafalaya Floodway, the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway and the Morganza Floodway.

The Morganza Floodway, which diverts water into the Atchafalaya River basin to help lower river levels at Baton Rouge and downriver, is always the second consideration and is opened when river levels reach 57 feet at the structure and there is a 10-day forecast river flow to reach 1.5 million cubic feet per second. A decision on that floodway will be made at some time after Saturday.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.

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