With Mississippi River On the Rise, MSU Ends Revetment Season Early

With the Carrollton Gage of the Mississippi River in New Orleans already above 14 feet, the Vicksburg Engineer District has announced that the district’s Mat Sinking Unit (MSU) suspended its 2019 revetment season as of January 21.

The season ended early due to problematic river conditions, caused by flooded riverbanks and turbulent flow rates. The district said the unit will watch and wait for about a month to see if river conditions will improve and allow for it to complete work already scheduled.

In an average season, the Mat Sinking Unit will place about 120,000 squares in the river, said Ed Adcock, chief of the revetment section for the Vicksburg District. A “square” measures four feet by 25 feet. Squares are stitched together aboard a one-of-a-kind barge and carefully placed on the riverbank to prevent erosion, protect key areas of the riverbank and flood control structures, and provide a safe and reliable navigation channel.

During the 2019 season, though, the MSU placed about 170,000 squares of articulated concrete mattress on the Lower Mississippi River. That busy revetment season comes on the heals of a historic flood season on the Mississippi River.

Sign up for Waterway Journal's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

“For more than 70 years, the Mat Sinking Unit has taken on the unique and important task of preventing erosion and maintaining navigation up and down the Mississippi River,” said Vicksburg District Commander Col. Robert Hilliard. “The Mississippi River serves as a vital commercial waterway and drainage system for the nation, and the hard work of the unit allows it to perform those crucial functions.”

The current unit came online in 1948, with some significant operational improvements added in the 1960s. The unit consists of a mat sinking barge, a mat supply barge, quarter barges, spar barges, gantry cranes, bulldozers and motor vessels. An army of about 50 full-time employees and 220 seasonal employees live on the quarter barges and work 10-hour shifts a dozen days at a time.

The Corps of Engineers surveys the Mississippi River following high water seasons to identify scours or erosion points from below Memphis to below New Orleans. The MSU team then goes to work during the low-water season.

If conditions on the Mississippi River improve in time, the unit could resume work in late February, according to the Vicksburg District.