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
the Schoellhorn- has a 150-tonne safe working load (SWL) Albrecht building was located on the capacity and features an advanced rope west bank of the Mississippi River. It monitoring and management system that began by providing steamboat engines maximizes rope lifespan and provides and deck equipment
, and tightly The National Oceanic and At- beach building, and clearing out the con? ned footprints. Usually two or mospheric Administration (NOAA) Mississippi River’s Southwest Pass more disposal barges, called scows, are closely regulates turbidity levels result- during the annual ? ood season. used
vessels from subsea electro-mechanical and soft- Maine to Corpus Christi, TX, including the ware engineering, combined with his Alabama Rivers, Lower Mississippi, Great hands-on practical offshore experience, Lakes and Erie Canal. Tug & Barge Solu- mean he brings a multi-disciplinary ap- tions exists to
. The top handlers are designed and built in the The Blueprint will identify the path toward zero U.S. by Taylor Machine Works, Inc., based in Mississippi. This emissions and an economical, demonstrated equipment loads, unloads and stacks containers weighing up to appr oach to EV planning
transfer through steel plates. secondary seal during operations in for its advanced enginei technology. www.nipponpaint-marine.com the lower Mississippi River, when Standard Calibrations Inc. (SCI), the vessel suffered catastrophic tail- a specialist measurement science shaft failure in shallow
a mas- 17 years. Crowley also promoted Peter ter’s degree in business administration business administration from the Uni- versity of Southern Mississippi and an Sutton to vice president of health, safe- from Harvard Business School. September 2019 MN 52 MN Sept19 Layout 50-59.indd 52 8/27/2019
the at- actually originates further up the river system. Seacor tention of the bankers. Edward M. A. Zimny, President AMH, operator of the M-55 lower Mississippi River ser- and CEO of investment bank Seabury Maritime LLC re- vice, gathers empty containers out of Memphis (a junc- cently weighed in with MLPro
INLAND LOGISTICS set of complicated lock-and-dam projects on the Il- Ready or Not … linois Waterway, from Chicago to the Mississippi, has Maritime operators got an advance look at dealing with A yellow lights ? ashing throughout the Midwest freight full closure last month, starting September 21, and
employ approximately 400 fuels, feedstocks and lubricants on the uty Administrator of the U.S. Saint workers at the site and will be in- lower Mississippi River, its tributar- Lawrence Seaway Development Cor- vesting millions in capital upgrades ies, and Gulf Intracoastal Waterway poration said,
, 28-foot wide, and 1,600 horse power vessel is both SIRE and 46 CFR Subchapter M- ready. Plimsoll Marine will operate the M/V Virginia on the Lower Mississippi River for Cooper Consolidated. Metal Shark Delivers Pilot Boat to Brazos Pilots designed by Metal Shark and built at the company’s Frank- lin,
from Maine to Corpus Christi, TX, the recordkeeping with his TSMS and including the Alabama Rivers, now a great company is getting even Lower Mississippi, Great Lakes and Erie better. Or if you are on the Gulf Coast Canal. Tug & Barge Solutions exists to help companies and mariners adapt then
for batant, unmanned and port security applications as well as ferries, ? reboats, launching and retrieving boats. The facility connects to the Mississippi Sound survey vessels, tugs, and a variety of aluminum workboats. Vigor ship repair providing riverine and littoral type environments, as well
cargo, the production man- making these vessel swaps does occur. factors have basically equated to a very ager can ensure maximum discharge/ The Mississippi River system has been Another bene? t of midstream operations conservative estimate of 2.5 million tons load ef? ciency by having the cranes
those not in the know, provide an over- tions, other than some minor service and crew view of the Associated Terminals assets in changes. er Mississippi River, unloading your New Orleans midstream cargo ops. Unlike typical dock operations with ? xed Associated Terminals operates 13 deep assets
a success- program is scheduled to bring an additional 900 skilled ful, pro? table U.S. shipbuilding business today. craftsman and staff to our Mississippi-based shipyard. Our most valuable asset is our people. We are committed to hiring the brightest and most capable Vessel deliveries: engineering
the local community, the the past year? Over the past 24 months, we have invested heav- allows our crews to work in any weather conditions state of Mississippi and the U.S. We are already in the ily in our capital improvements, employee training, while in an environmentally safe atmosphere. The fa- design
that quality shipowners are increasingly pulling the trigger to dump older handling operations on the Lower +1 631-472-2715 tonnage and build new. Mississippi River. I was duly im- Frank Covella email@example.com +1 561 732 1659 pressed with the operation, a logistical Mike Kozlowski kozlowski@mar
the small craft Defense production, with hopes of boats. The facility connects to the naval inventory and includes an out- many more years to come. Mississippi Sound providing riverine board powered open and cabin boat and littoral type environments, as well that is lower cost for initial investment
. A network of SENNEBOGEN distribu- tors throughout North America, Mexico and Argentina includes more than 70 service locations on the Ohio & Mississippi River systems. The new “Green Hybrid” energy recovery system utilizes advanced hydraulic engi- neering to reduce energy costs by up to 50% on every
a long history in sup- porting the inland river industry. In 1887 the Schoellhorn- Albrecht building was located on the historic west bank of the Mississippi River. This ? rm began by providing steam- boat engines and deck equipment for river boats built in Alaska and used on the Yukon River during
can be tailored for unique circumstances, from running a light boat in the IntraCoastal Canal to push- ing 30 loaded barges southbound in the Mississippi River with a 6000HP tow- boat. Inland and offshore wheelhouse simulation is also offered at Delgado. “We now video the simulation to pull and
,” said ture. This goes from the mouth of the ability,” said Admiral Schultz. “We’re Admiral Schultz. “We do about a billion dollars worth of work Mississippi all the way up to the Great building out our cyber capability at the While cyber security is an obvious Lakes. It’s a national situation.” Coast
try to safely get their goods to market. Commander, and RADM Paul Thomas – Eighth second among U.S. ports in total tons of throughout the entire Mississippi River The historic ? ooding has also shut down District Commander. cargo (127.6 million tons) and number 10 system – have been severely challenged
into New Orleans with Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant, USCG, provides a ‘birds eye view’ on the robust and diverse business in and around the lower Mississippi River. Photo: Greg Trauthwein ADMIRAL SCHULTZ ON U.S. SHIPBUILDING ast month Maritime Reporter of shoreline, 25,000 miles of navigable maritime