Locks and Dams

Columbia Lock On Ouachita River Closed Due To Seepage, Sand Boils

The Corps of Engineers announced July 11 the closure to navigation of Columbia Lock on the Ouachita River until further notice. Less than a week prior, the Corps’ Vicksburg District reported it was inspecting the lock after seepage and sand boils near the structure and voids under the lock wall had been identified early this month.

Besides closing the lock to navigation “until emergency repairs can be made,” the Corps has lowered the water level within Columbia Pool 3 feet “to relieve some of the pressures on the lock structure,” according to the July 11 announcement.

Lowering the water level in the pool means seven boat ramps—those at Riverton, Prairion, Bawcomville, Moon Lake, Sterlington, Finch Bayou and Felsenthal South—have closed as well.

“These areas and the lock structure will be closed until further notice to protect your safety and prevent possible damages to your boats,” the Vicksburg District said in the July 11 announcement. “Please do not move or go around any of the barricades.”

Columbia Lock and Dam is located just north of Columbia, La., and due west of Winnsboro in the northeast corner of the state.

From Southern Arkansas through Northeast Louisiana to where the Ouachita River joins the Black River then empties into the Red River, the Corps maintains a 9-foot channel with four locks and dams. According to a November 2017 report prepared by the University of Louisiana at Monroe for the North Louisiana Economic Partnership, the Ouachita-Black River handled just under 900,000 tons of cargo in 2016, with commercial use of the waterway valued at close to $5.7 billion in economic activity each year. Paper, petrochemicals and power are the major industries served on the waterway.

At Columbia Lock between June 2017 and June 2018, about 486,000 tons of cargo passed through the lock, with the vast majority classified as petroleum or petroleum products, according to Corps’ Lock Performance Monitoring System.

In June of this year, 56,000 tons passed through the lock. Prior to its closure in July, only 12,000 tons had gone through Columbia Lock this month.

No timetable for repairs has been announced.

“At this time, the structure is stable and further damages are not expected,” the Corps said in the July 11 announcement.