The Old River Control Structure and its future implications for the Mighty Mississippi
Prior to about 1500, the bodies of water now called the Mississippi River and the Red River (also known as the Red River of the South) were roughly parallel along their southern reaches, each emptying separately into the Gulf of Mexico. About 1500, the Mississippi, which has a long history of meandering, developed a large bend to the west in the vicinity of what is now Point Breeze, Louisiana. That bend, sometimes referred to as Turnbull’s Bend, connected with the Red River and had the effect of making the Red River basically a tributary of the Mississippi, with only a small portion of its waterflow continuing south. That southern waterflow is now called the Atchafalaya River.
Everything was fine until 1831, because the water basins in that region shifted regularly about every 1,000 years. The land and its occupants, including humans, adjusted. The early 1800s saw the rise of the steamboat era. Time became paramount. Turnbull’s Bend was a 20-mile detour that only moved the steamboat two miles further as the crow flies. This was unacceptable.
Henry Shreve, a steamboat captain and owner, inventor, and engineer, had developed technology to clear snags and obstructions from the river. In 1831, he dug a shortcut across the narrowest portion of Turnbull’s Bend, shortening the Mississippi by over 17 miles. The meander lost most of its waterflow and became known as the Old River and carried a relatively small amount of water between the Mississippi and the Red/Atchafalaya River. When the Mississippi was high, the Old River flowed west. When the Mississippi was low, the Old River flowed east. The majority of the time, the Mississippi was higher than the Red/Atchafalaya River.
Initially, the total waterflow through the Atchafalaya was about 10% of that through the Mississippi, but over time this varied to as high as 30%. Since the length of the Atchafalaya was noticeably less than the length of the Mississippi from Point Breese to the Gulf and since the Mississippi continued to meander, there was concern that the Mississippi might eventually change course and flow through the Atchafalaya. This would have the effect of largely cutting Baton Rouge and New Orleans off from the significant waterflow, devastating their economies.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was called upon to resolve the potential problem. In 1963, it completed construction of the Old River Control Structure at Point Breeze. The structure’s mission was to maintain the status quo, keeping the waterflow of the Atchafalaya at 30% that of the Mississippi. This was accomplished by means of the Low Sill Control Structure for regulation of routine waterflow through operation of a dam and outflow channel and the Overbank Control Structure for supplemental waterflow control when the Mississippi floods. A navigation channel and lock were also included, allowing tugs and barges to transit between to two river systems.
A major flood in 1973 severely tested the Control Structure and nearly caused its complete failure. Flood waters scoured a 55-foot hole under the south end of the Low Sill Control Structure and part of it collapsed into the waterway. It took the emergency dumping of 250 thousand tons of rock into the waterway to save the structure.
An Auxiliary Structure was added in 1986 to reduce pressure on the original floodgates and a hydroelectric facility was added in 1990. The hydroelectric facility takes advantage of the difference in water levels between the two rivers to generate electricity and has largely eliminated the need for water to flow through the Low Sill Control Structure during normal conditions.
The problem with the hydroelectric facility is that it only removes water from the Mississippi. The silt is filtered and largely prevented from entering the Atchafalaya. As a result, the ever-present silt remains in the Big Muddy and is distributed through a smaller volume of water, while a noticeable amount of the clean water has been sent to the Atchafalaya River. The additional clear water leads to increased scouring of the Atchafalaya River basin. The now siltier Mississippi has a difficult time keeping all that silt in suspension. Much of it descends to the bottom. As the river bottom comes up, so must the water level at the surface. This has the effect of requiring levees along the river to be raised. It also has the effect of increasing the pressure on the Old River Control Structure. The increased silt deposit is also a reason that dredging of the river in constantly taking place.
Eventually, nature will prevail and the main river channel at Point Breeze will shift from the Lower Mississippi to the Atchafalaya. This will have major immediate and long-term consequences for both river basins, their inhabitants, and their infrastructure. Millions live within the Mississippi River basin south of Point Breeze. Another million live in the Atchafalaya River basin. There are billions of dollars of infrastructure in the Mississippi River basin and a substantial amount in the Atchafalaya River basin. In addition, those living and working in the Mississippi River basin depend on the river with its significant water flow to prevent salt water intrusion into the water table. The U.S. petro-chemical and grain exporting businesses will be devastated.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declines to say when this change in the water flow will occur, but does not argue with the proposition that it is inevitable. The Corps does say that it will continue to operate the Old River Control Structure, holding back the Mississippi’s predilection to move west, so long as Congress continues to appropriate the necessary funds to maintain and upgrade the structure. There will come a point, though, when Plan B must be considered.
The Mississippi River and its Old River Control Structure are vital parts of our national infrastructure. Close attention to their situation is of national importance.
D. John Nichols, president of Mississippi Marine Corp., Greenville, Miss., has announced the appointment of R. Monroe Barrett and Hugh Smith Jr. to executive posts in the firm. Mr. Barrett recently joined Mississippi Marine as manager of marketing and repair operations, while Mr. Smith has assumed the
Carl B. Hakenjos, vice president of William-McWilliams Co., Inc. in New Orleans, La., was elected president of the Mississippi Valley Flood Control Branch of the Associated General Contractors of America, Inc. at its recent annual meeting at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans. Other officers
John Nichols, president of Mississippi Marine Towboat Corporation, Greenville, Miss., announced recently that he and partners T.R. Pittman and Mrs. Lilie M. (Skeeter) Choate of Greenville, have purchased the John H. Cox family interest in Mississippi Marine for an undisclosed amount. John H.
The badly fire-damaged M/V Lillian G has been completely repaired and extensively modified at Mississippi Marine Towboat Corporation's shipyard in Greenville, Miss. According to John Nichols, president of Mississippi Marine, the 1,700-hp, 90-foot by 30-foot by 10-foot Lillian G, owned by Mon River
Contracts have been signed for the purchase of three new offshore oil field service vessels by Gulf Mississippi Marine Corporation of New Orleans, La. Representing a cumulative investment of $6,400,000, the boats were acquired by Gulf Mississippi Marine from George Engine Company, Inc. of Harvey, La.
Mississippi Marine Towboat Corporation, Greenville, Miss., recently launched its first offshore supply vessel. The 112-foot by 26- foot by 11-foot 2-inch Utility-class vessel was designed by the naval architectural and marine engineering firm of van Bentem and Associates of Ocean Springs, Miss.
A new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report describes how advanced optical sensor technology is being used in the Mississippi River basin to accurately track the nitrate pulse to the Gulf of Mexico. Excessive springtime nitrate runoff from agricultural land and other sources in the Mississippi drainage
U.S.-Flag dredgers answer the call in the Mississippi River Basin.Major flooding this winter in the Mississippi River Basin has created significant increased shoaling in the Southwest Pass Channel of the Mississippi River. Shoaling is generally described as the river containing elevated levels of sand and
Jeffboat, Inc., Jeffersonville, Ind., recently announced the keel laying for the M/Y Capt. Neville Levy, a ferry under construction for the Mississippi River Bridge Authority, New Orleans, La. Completion is set for late 1977. The Capt. Neville Levy will carry up to 40 automobiles and 1,000 passengers
Avondale Shipyard enroute to its second phase of facelifting at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss, it was towed downriver on the Mississippi by Gulf Fleet Marine's Gulf Ace II, a 5,600 hp class tug, while another Gulf Fleet Marine vessel, the Gulf Commander, a 9,000 hp class tug
by Dinko's Marine Service, Inc. of Aransas Pass, Texas, to build a second passenger/supply vessel for that firm. D. John Nichols, president of Mississippi Marine, said the boat, now under construction and scheduled for delivery to Dinko's in March 1980, is as yet unassigned and will be available
previously served as Chairman of the Board of Commis- sioners of the Port of New Orleans. Baldwin was the Honorary Consul of Norway for Louisiana and Mississippi and was awarded the Royal Order of Merit First class from the Kingdom of Norway for his service. Baldwin was a native New Orleanian and a graduate
PRECEDES OR FOLLOWS IT cally moving steadily. I am referring, As explained on the website of But there is one critically important of course, to the Mississippi River, the U.S. Maritime Administration thing that the highways and the wa- which is part of what the U.S. De- (MarAd), this is in fact the mission
been receptive to Not substantially. Since it’s on the Ohio River, it doesn’t intermodal sharing and indeed, each have powerful impact much on the Mississippi, north of the con? uence. lobbies on the Hill to make sure they don’t lose their footprint. Would you say that locally, this relationship Project
of $3,270,000 with an estimated start date of Summer 2019 and St. Louis Regional Ports have all signed an agree- ment to Foster Economic Growth on the Mississippi (Granting agency: EDA). Separately, Granite City Harbor River. The pact is intended to help support the devel- Dock Surface Improvements will
Minneapo- lis to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, was developed Dennis Wilmsmeyer by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Without it, the Mississippi River would not be the strategic asset it is today, nor would America’s Central Port be celebrating Executive Director, its 60th anniversary
spite of is a leader in the domestic marketplace, with itineraries up and the large number of ships, their total capacity is less than just down the Mississippi River and its tributaries, New England and one of the new mega-ships. And, the ultimate impact of this the Pacifc Northwest. This Connecticut
DREDGING 10. Mississippi River Upper Pool 4, Pierce County Islands and Head of impacts, e.g., from reduced costs of food damages to im- Lake Pepin Backwater Complex proved recreational opportunities. Projects were qualita- Location: Upper Mississippi River, Wisconsin tively ranked as “Positive-Neutral-Neg
Bank Seabird Sanctuary SC SAD Hickory Cove Marsh Restoration and Living Shoreline TX SWD Grays Harbor South Jetty Sand Placement Pilot Project WA NWD Mississippi River Upper Pool 4: Benefcial Use of Dredged Material WI MVD (*) PR = Puerto Rico. MSC: “Major Subordinate Command,” pertains to a State’s particular
export terminal, less the cost of trans- ditional costs while others receive the benefts at no cost. portation. Some estimate that tolls on the Upper Mississippi Opportunity lies ahead and there is hope for the devel- River could equate to 31.5 cents-per-bushel to transit 24 opment of a proper package to
PASSENGER VESSEL OUTLOOK • Simmons called the Mississippi River market “under- served” and Viking wants to bulk up fast. Cruises should start in 2021 and the company projects 18,136
O of growth and expansion for 2018. This year’s review – American Harmony, also built at Chesapeake Shipbuild- is more geographically limited – to the Mississippi River, ing. Construction also started on the third ship in Novem- heartland cruises centered among New Orleans, Memphis, ber. When
is President of Padelford Packet Boat Co. A found- ing PVA member, Padelford provides a wide variety of public cruises and private events on the Mississippi River with three pas- senger subchapter K vessels. Gaspardo attended Mankato State University and joined Padelford as a deckhand in 1984 and ob- tained
tenure with BC Fer- ford provides a wide variety ries, the company became of public cruises and private recognized as a world leader events on the Mississippi Riv- in safety and operational ex- er with three passenger sub- cellence, set record earnings chapter K vessels. Gaspardo levels, invested $2
of Brownsville www.portofbrownsville.com (956) 831-4592 C3 Por t of Corpus Christi www.portofcc.com Visit our website 37 Por t of Gulfport Mississippi www.shipmspa.com (228) 865-4300 35 Por t of New Orleans www.portno.com Please visit us online 3 Por t of Palm Beach www.portofpalmbeach
, the Corps Ready Reserve dredge Wheeler Coastal and their management team will allow Callan Marine supplies that ? re truck response in the Lower Mississippi. In to continue its penetration into the dredging industry, as it the future, we believe the Corps could save money by using establishes new
Department chose the Staying competitive in terms of both price and quality, 46’ Moose Boat for many reasons,” explained Chief Chris even east of the Mississippi River, Moose’s third delivery Mills, North Beach VFD. He added quickly, “The cover- to the East Coast comes in the form of the City of Mem- age
Lo- the coastline to the port of Gulfport, locating pipeline-? nishing operations EIA to delay the process. gistics Professional and MarineNews. Mississippi for guidance. That’s be- on the East Pier of the port. The new Circling back to ESG’s sprawling cause until Hurricane Katrina crushed shipyard
riverboat in the series, will be completed and delivered in the ? rst quarter of 2019. American Song will cruise a full schedule of 8-day Lower Mississippi River cruises throughout the remain- der of 2018 and then will reposition to the West Coast in 2019, for American’s Columbia and Snake Rivers cruises
t of Brownsville www.portofbrownsville.com (956) 831-4592 C3 Por t of Corpus Christi www.portofcc.com Visit our website 15 Por t of Gulfport Mississippi www.shipmspa.com (228) 865-4300 59 Por t of New Orleans www.portno.com Please visit us online 3 Por t of Palm Beach www.portofpalmbeach
PORT DEVELOPMENT and The University of Southern Mississippi. The Port also has one non-maritime tenant, the rebuilt Island View Casino Resort. McDermott International is locating pipeline-fnishing opera- tions on the East Pier of the port. The new shipyard operated by Topship, a unit of Edison Chouest
PORT DEVELOPMENT We were that Banana Port on the Coast of Mississippi, which is still a cornerstone of what we do. We are the nation’s second largest green fruit import facility, but you look at the diversifca- tion now. Throw in there the fact that we are one of seventeen strategic ports in the U.S.
. 420,000 square feet of wharf deck. Both had letters of intent dating back two years with much to do. In December 2007, almost two years later, the Mississippi Devel- As has been the case since before Daniels took over from Don opment Authority (MDA) fnally requested funding from the U.S. Allee in 2013
PORT DEVELOPMENT By Rick Eyerdam Credit: Mississippi State Port Authority www.maritimelogisticsprofessional.com 33 I
, two domestic ports; each battling back to create regional value for the local economy, are providing new options for shippers. The port of Gulfport, Mississippi has emerged from the tragic destruction wrought by hur- ricane Katrina as a stronger, more diversifed and regionally viable deep draft port. Rick