Louisiana Joins Lawsuits Over Bonnet Carré

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has joined a pair of lawsuits challenging the manner in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates the Bonnet Carré Spillway, the southernmost flood control structure on the Lower Mississippi River, according to an Associated Press report.

Louisiana joins as a defendant in the lawsuits, one of which was filed in December 2019 by various cities and business groups in Mississippi and another filed by the Mississippi secretary of state about the same time. Other defendants in the lawsuits include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi River Commission (MRC).

The lawsuits challenge the way the Corps operates the spillway, which diverts water from the Mississippi River into Lake Pontchartrain and on to the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. Last year, during the historic 2019 high water season on the Mississippi River, the Corps operated the spillway twice for a total of 123 days. The resulting discharge of freshwater into the brackish lake and salty sound led to a decimation of the area’s commercial fishing and long-term beach closures due to algae blooms.

“As part of the relief sought, the state [of Mississippi] has asked the court to compel the defendants to perform a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement as well as to utilize the Morganza Spillway to mitigate the freshwater inundation of the Mississippi Sound in the future,” the Mississippi secretary of state said in announcing its lawsuit last year.

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.

While the Corps and Mississippi River Commission have asked the federal judge overseeing the case to dismiss the lawsuit, the state of Louisiana, according to documents accessed by the Associated Press, does not.

“While Louisiana supports the operation of the spillway to protect lives and property, it also recognizes that the Corps could take steps to manage water resources differently during high-water events,” the motion from Louisiana states, according to the AP.

Louisiana does, though, agree with the Corps and MRC in opposing the increased operation of Morganza Floodway, a structure north of Baton Rouge, La., which diverts water from the Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya River Basin. While Bonnet Carré has been opened three times in the last two years—twice in 2019 and once in 2020—Morganza has been used twice in its history. The floodway was operated in 1973 and in 2011.

“The current operation of these structures is paramount to the safety and security of hundreds of thousands of Louisianans, their property and their livelihoods,” the Louisiana attorney general’s office said in a statement released to the AP. “Attorney General Jeff Landry is intervening in the suits in order to ensure that, should any changes occur to the management of the spillways, Louisiana has a seat at the table and is able to protect our state’s people and resources.”