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Corps of Engineers sued over flood management



The Bonnet Carre Spillway diverts excess Mississippi River water. (2011 photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Fallout from the Mississippi River flood of 2019 continues with a lawsuit over how the flood waters were managed.

Several cities, counties and groups are accusing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi River Commission of opening the Bonnet Carré Spillway for prolonged periods without regard to the consequences, the Clarion Ledger reports.

The spillway operates as a fail safe for New Orleans when the Mississippi River is above flood stage, diverting water away from the city and into Lake Pontchartrain and then out into the Gulf of Mexico. Since it was completed in the 1930s, the gates of the spillway have only been opened 14 times, an average of about once every six years. It was opened in both 2018 and 2019, however, and in 2019, it was opened twice for a total of 123 days.

The huge influx of fresh water into the Gulf caused its salinity to decrease, and the results were catastrophic. A toxic algae bloom closed beaches to swimmers and waders in Mississippi at the height of beach season. Coastal marine life died in numbers not seen since the 2010 BP oil spill. Oyster beds died, and commercial fishing was devastated to the tune of more than $160 million in losses.

In September, the U.S. Department of Commerce declared a federal fisheries disaster for Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.

The lawsuit is seeking to force the Corps to consult with local governments before opening the spillway and to study the effects of spillway openings with an eye toward mitigating future damage, including pollution.

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