For now, the Mississippi River valley, swollen from snow melt and rain, is mostly a nuisance. But with the rest of winter and spring ahead, there are growing worries about the threat of devastating flooding.
NEW ORLEANS For now, the Mississippi River valley, swollen from snow melt and rain, is mostly a nuisance. But with the rest of winter and spring ahead, there are growing worries about the threat of devastating flooding.
"We have some pretty good water coming. It's so early in the year, and that's one of the things that is causing us some concern," said Larry Banks, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers watershed division chief who oversees the Mississippi River.
Already-high waters have caused problems for river traffic on the Ohio River and minor flooding in low-lying areas outside the levees that hold in the river's water.
"Last week we had four to eight inches of rain over a good part of the lower Missouri, upper Mississippi and the Ohio river basins and that's pushed river levels to well above flood stages," Banks said. "It will put water into homes, camps, businesses along a 900-plus mile reach of the river."
The volume of water coursing down the river this January hasn't been seen in more than 50 years, officials said.
On Jan. 19, the river is expected to crest at 54.5 feet at Cairo, Ill. -- about 14.5 feet above flood stage. The water gauge at Cairo is a key indicator because it measures the combined flow of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, or about 41 percent of the nation's waters.
Levee boards and Corps officials are on alert.
"This whole levee system is only as good as its weakest link, so everybody has to work together to make sure it stays intact," Banks said.
In the Mississippi Delta, high waters have flooded low-lying farm lands, choked a few rural roads down to one lane and turned some neighborhoods soggy outside the protection of levees, said Michael Logue, a spokesman for the Corps' Vicksburg, Miss., district office.
Also, Mississippi wildlife wardens are expected to shut down hunting in delta woods and fields flooded by the high waters. By law, the state clamps down on hunting when animals are forced out of their natural habitat.
"It's going to cut out one of our prime areas up there," said L.W. "Bump" Callaway, a board member of the Warren County Hunting and Fishing Club. "We have deer, rabbits, squirrel, turkey."
In New Orleans, the Coast Guard has posted advisories on the Mississippi, directing river traffic to be vigilant about high waters. The Coast Guard on Thursday placed some restrictions on barges, underpowered vessels and towing in New Orleans.
"Currents can be very unpredictable," said Lt. Kevin Lynn of the Coast Guard's marine safety division in New Orleans. "Up and down the Ohio river, they are on alert and have been putting out safety advisories and implementing safety zones."
Just how bad things get will depend on how much more rain falls.
"Every year stands on its own. Everything depends on the precipitation and where that falls within the Mississippi basin," Logue said. "Everybody gets excited. But we've had high waters in January and then seen a drought in May."
Source: Associated Press