Locks and Dams

Lock Closures Will Affect Red, Ouachita Rivers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will embark on a pair of simultaneous lock closures August 30 when the Vicksburg District begins maintenance at Lindy C. Boggs Lock and the New Orleans District gets to work at Old River Lock.

Lindy C. Boggs Lock is the southernmost lock on the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway, the navigable channel on the Red River that extends from the confluence of Old and Red rivers to Shreveport, La. Old River Lock, part of the Old River Control Structure, allows commercial navigation to pass between the Atchafalaya, Red and Ouachita rivers and the Lower Mississippi River.

At Boggs, the Vicksburg District plans a routine maintenance dewatering to conduct repairs, inspect the structure and make plans for future work. Ahead of the closure, the district has worked to repair downstream floating guide wall rails and guide wall timbers. The Vicksburg District will temporarily reopen the lock midway through the closure to allow towboat traffic to move between the Red and Atchafalaya rivers. Lindy C. Boggs Lock will be closed to navigation August 30 through September 28. It will then reopen to navigation from September 28 to October 14. The second closure will run through November 12.

Spillway Gates

 A concurrent issue, yet unrelated to the planned lock closure, is degradation to the spillway gates at Boggs Lock and Dam. The dam is made up of 11 tainter gates that are “deteriorated due to age,” according to an August 22 announcement from the Vicksburg District.

“A gate failure could lead to a loss of pool,” the announcement said.

Gate 4 had deteriorated so badly that the district blocked it with stop logs. The state of the other 10 gates is so concerning that the district has declared an emergency and activated an emergency operations center, with personnel actively monitoring the gates from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

“There is some risk of these gates failing, but right now it’s a low risk,” Vicksburg District Chief of Navigation KC Ellis said on an August 24 conference call with navigation stakeholders.

Corps officials are working to mobilize one or two more sets of stop logs in case other gates need to be taken out of operation, Ellis said. The Vicksburg District has already received some funding to replace tainter gates at Boggs Lock and Dam, but the cost estimation was done three years ago, Ellis said, and the funding is nowhere near sufficient to replace all the gates now.

“We’ve got funding to put a contract out, but we cannot get the number of gates we need replaced,” Ellis said. “We’re getting some additional funding through the infrastructure bill in ’23, but we’ll still come up short for replacing all 11 gates.”

Even if emergency funds are made available, the district won’t be able to replace the tainter gates for quite some time.

“It’s going to take a year to two years to get gates fabricated and start getting them installed,” Ellis said. “It’s a long process. The gates, I want to say, are 54-foot wide and over 30-foot tall. They’re big gates.”

Old River Maintenance

The more intensive and extensive lock closure will take place about 30 miles southeast of Boggs at Old River Lock, which will be completely closed to navigation from August 30 to November 12. Old River Lock opened to navigation in March 1963 and was last fully dewatered in 1978. The closure at Old River was originally planned to begin August 15 and last a full 90 days. However, after hearing from stakeholders in the agriculture and maritime industries, Col. Stephen Murphy, the outgoing commander of the New Orleans District, agreed to delay the closure for two weeks. Corps leaders also were able to identify ways to work ahead of the closure to shave it to 75 days.

“We’ve been doing the advance work above the water line on the expansion joints,” said Russell Beauvais, operations manager for the New Orleans District, also speaking on the navigation conference call. “We’ve been doing everything we can every day.”

Besides repairs to leaking expansion joints, the New Orleans District plans to inspect the entire Old River Lock chamber, replace the miter gate on the Mississippi River end, refurbish or replace miter gate operating components and emergency ladders in the chamber and address any unforeseen maintenance issues during the closure. In 2010, Old River was partially dewatered to allow the replacement of the lower (Atchafalaya-side) miter gate.

At present, neither closure looks to be impacted by recent rainfall in the state, although waterway managers will continue to monitor water levels on the Red, Atchafalaya and Mississippi rivers. According to Craig S. Ross with the National Weather Service’s Shreveport, La., office, the Monroe area in the northeastern part of Louisiana has received 16 inches of rain so far in August, with rain remaining in the forecast.

“Consequently, slight rises have developed on the middle and lower Red River, as well as the lower Ouachita River, the Black and the Atchafalaya,” Ross said.

Portions of the Ouachita River have risen between 2.5 and 5 feet, Ross said, with up to a 1 foot rise on portions of the Red. The Atchafalaya River near Simmesport, just west of Old River, is expected to crest near 14 feet around August 29. Beauvais said he doesn’t foresee any issues with high water from the Atchafalaya River impacting the closure at Old River.