High Water On Red River Closes Locks

It’s been almost two years since many high water marks were set in March 2016 along much of the Red River in Louisiana. The J. Bennett Johnston Waterway, which includes five navigable locks along the Red River, stretches from Shreveport, La., southward to where the Red, Atchafalaya and Mississippi rivers come together.

Now with high rates of rainfall within the Red River Basin, residents and operators along the Red River are bracing for a swell of water moving down the waterway. As of late last week, two of the five locks were already closed due to high water, with a third expected to close over the weekend.

Richard Brontoli, executive director of the Red River Valley Association, said it’s all due to the pattern of rainfall that has characterized late winter within the Red River Basin.

“The problem is we’re getting these patterns—every three to four days we’re getting about 2 inches,” Brontoli said. “And we don’t know when that pattern is going to stop.”

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Lock 5, the uppermost lock on the system near Shreveport, closed to navigation February 25 due to high water. Lock 4 on the Red River, located in Campti, La., near Natchitoches, closed to navigation two days later, and Lock 3, located 16 miles above Boyce, La., closed late February 28. Late last week, Lock 2, 16 miles below Alexandria, measured 69.38 feet on the upper pool with a continued rise expected over the weekend. That lock closes when the upper pool reaches 72.5. In an email sent to waterway stakeholders last week, Brontoli pointed out that most of the region’s rain had fallen in uncontrolled areas, meaning reservoir managers have had little power to restrict flows downriver.

And while the immediate outlook for high water on the Red River was not as dire as in years past, Brontoli said the concern remained for significant shoaling as the river drops back to pool. Due to the dynamics of the Red River Basin, the waterway tends to see significant shoaling around the locks, which brings navigation to a fast halt and necessitates dredging at each lock in order to fully reopen the waterway. Brontoli said he would stress the need for emergency dredging while in Washington, D.C., this week.

“One of the things we’re going to talk about it is, when the river falls, there’s going to be a lot of silt and need for dredging,” Brontoli said. “We have the funding for what we would call a normal year, so we’re probably going to have to get additional funds out of an emergency supplemental (bill) to help with the dredging we’re going to need to do.”

Also on the agenda for his time in Washington, D.C., Brontoli said, is meeting with subcommittees tasked with crafting this year’s Water Resources Development Act bill in hopes of securing authorization to study deepening the Red River from a 9-foot channel to 12 feet. Brontoli said that while he is confident on receiving authorization, funding will be the challenge.

“That’s the harder part,” he said.