The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Atchafalaya Lower

Rivergator: Paddler’s Guide to

Atchafalaya River:

Atchafalaya River Delta

Including Wax Lake Delta
 
© 2015 John Ruskey
For the Rivergator: Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

 

Intro: Morgan City to the Gulf of Mexico

As you paddle out of Morgan City bound for the Gulf of Mexico, you will want to have already settled a few important questions in your mind for a successful completion of you expedition.  The Rivergator has attempted to be helpful in preparing you accordingly.  But now you must have a game plan.  Chief amongst these questions is 1) Which route will you follow to the Gulf?  Next you will want to settle the question:  2) How will you return back from the Gulf?  (Paddle or arrange a ride?)  And lastly, you will want to have a meet place for your ride home: 3) Where is the best meet spot back in Morgan City? 

 

One final consideration for some expeditions who are flying back home from New Orleans and have no room for their gear, 4) what will you do now with your vessel and expedition equipment?   In this section, the Rivergator will try to provide enough information so that you, dear paddler, can make good decisions concerning these and other matters.

Maps of the Atchafalaya Delta

Below Morgan City, you will have to retire your trusty Atchafalaya Basin Map (Louisiana Geological Survey).  Unfortunately this excellent map does not continue below the Intracoastal Waterway (mile 124).  But fortunately for us paddlers, there other resources availabe free-of-charge.  Before you go into the Atchafalaya Delta update your maps with the below!  You can see all of the Delta on Google Earth, but none of the names, mileage, and very little context.  An excellent map of the Atchafalaya Delta detailing all of the passes, the islands and their names - and a WMA campground only accessible by boat - can be had at no charge by going to the following website for the Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area:

 

http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wma/32639

 

Click on this pdf to download maps of both the Atchafalaya Delta and the Wax Lake Delta:

 

http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/wma/32639-atchafalaya-delta/atchafalayadelta.pdf

 

In case you need it, here is the website where you can download the USACE 2012 Atchafalaya River Charts:

 

USACE 2012 Atchafalaya River and outlets to Gulf of Mexico

Navigation Chart Folio, 6th Edition

http://www2.mvn.usace.army.mil/ENG/EDSD/mapbooks/atch_nav_2012_map.asp

Best Water Levels to Paddle to the Gulf

The best time to paddle to the Gulf is during low or medium water levels (around 0 on the Morgan City Gage), which usually occurs in the late summer and fall.  This is excellent timing for long-distance paddlers, most of whom begin in Minnesota or Montana in May or June, and 3-5 months later are approaching the Gulf of Mexico.   Annually the water levels at Morgan City typically peak during the spring flood season (April-July) and trough in the fall/winter (Sept-February), with intermediate changes in between.  The lowest recorded water level was -5.4 on August 25, 1926, and the record high peaked during the 1973 flood at 10.53 (The same flood that almost dislodged the Old River Control Structure).  The waters almost came that high during the Great Flood of 2011 when they crested at 10.35 in Morgan City.

MORGAN CITY GAGE (MCG)

Below Morgan City the Rivergator will continue using the Morgan City Gage (MCG) which can be found online at:

 

http://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=lch&gage=mcgl1&prob_type=stage&source=hydrograph

 

Paddlers planning a trip down the Atchafalaya should consult the Morgan City Gage to get the best idea about what’s going on with water levels here at the bottom end of the Atchafalaya between Morgan City and the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Reading the Morgan City Gage with the following divisions for low water, medium water and high water will yield a fairly accurate picture of how much sand will be showing at different locations, which campsites and parks are still above water, and which landings are still usable for vehicles.  Remember what you see on Google Earth might be vastly different than the actual water level and conditions of the sandbars and islands, and other places of importance to paddlers.

Water levels according to the Morgan City Gage

Low Water = -5 to -1 MCG 

Medium Water = -1 to 3 MCG

High Water = 3 to 6 MCG

Bank Full = 5 MCG

Flood Stage = 6 MCG and above

(MCG = Morgan City Gage)

 

Flood Stage Warning: above 6 MCG paddlers are advised to stay off the river.  Morgan City and Berwick seawalls will be closed.  Very limited access.  Most landings and approach roads will be underwater.  Most islands will be gone.  No easy camping.  All sandbars will be covered.  Fast waters with many hazards.  All islands and landings will be surrounded by flooded forests full of snags, strainers, sawyers and all other dangerous conditions associated with floodwater moving through trees.  Docks, wharves, dikes and any other man-made objects will create strong whirlpools, violent boils, and fast eddies.  Towboats will create large waves.  The Rivergator will not describe the river and its islands at any levels above flood stage. 

 

4 Feet on the Morgan City Gage is considered Action stage. Water will move up the bank and across access roads below the city dock. Floodwall gates should be closed by the 5 foot stage to protect against higher stages. Vessel traffic will be affected by stronger river current and vessel traffic safety rules will be strictly enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard.

 

At 5 feet the floodwall gates will be closed to protect against higher stages. Vessel traffic will be affected by stronger river current and vessel traffic safety rules will be strictly enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard.

 

6 feet is flood stage. The city dock will be under water. Water will cover the lower end of Belleview Front Street in Berwick. Vessel traffic will be affected by stronger river current and vessel traffic safety rules will be strictly enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard.

 

At 7 feet the buildings at the foot of Ann Street on the river side of the flood wall will flood as water overtops the Rio Oil Company dock. Buildings on the river side of the Berwick floodwall will flood. River traffic restrictions will be strictly enforced.

 

By 9 feet the structures on the river side of protection walls in Morgan City and Berwick will be under water. River traffic restrictions will be strictly enforced.

 

At 12 feet there is a major flood threat. Back water flooding of Bayou Bouef will cause damage east of Morgan City to the community of Amelia. Structures on the river side of protection walls in Morgan City and Berwick will be under water. River traffic restrictions will be strictly enforced.

 

20 feet is catastrophic flood threat. Evacuation of the cities of Berwick and Morgan City is strongly recommended. Flood walls protect the cities to an elevation of 21 feet.