River leaking through gates into locks



Posted on May 12, 2011 at 5:41 PM

Updated Thursday, May 12 at 5:43 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans area locks allow boats, tows and barges on the lower Mississippi River to flow to and from the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal and other sea level waterways.

There was a troubling sign Thursday for the Army Corps of Engineers, as the rising river is beginning to leak through the gates into the locks.

“Right now, you have 17 feet on the Carrollton gauge. It's getting precariously close to the top of our gates here at the lock. IHNC, Algiers lock, Harvey lock all three local locks in New Orleans are being heavily impacted,” said Vic Landry of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The corps took action Thursday to reduce the pressure on the locks. Crews doubled the number of bays opened at the Bonnet Carre Spillway hoping to bring the water level in New Orleans down from flood stage of 17 feet to 16 and a half feet.

“If we get approximately one more foot of river rise, it would probably impact us and have to shut down the IHNC, Algiers lock and Harvey lock,” Landry said.

Shutting down the locks would cost the shallow draft shipping industry about $1 million per day.

“You've got to come through here, through this lock if you're going from the Mexican-Texas border to Port Carrabelle, Florida or points between. That lock would probably close before the river closes,” said Gary LaGrange, Port of New Orleans CEO.

During high water it take barges a lot longer to pass through the locks. Under normal circumstances, the process takes about 20 minutes. On Thursday the barges were taking an average of 45 minutes.

“Essentially, a lock is an elevator for boats, vessels, tows. We have to get them from high pool to low pool and typically when it's like this, maybe 5 or 6 feet, no big deal, but when you're looking at a 14 foot head differential from the river to the canal here it's a big difference,” Landry said.

For drivers it means the St. Claude Bridge will also be opening and closing during those hours.