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Army Corps of Engineers Opens Gates at Bonnet Carre Spillway to Save New Orleans

The Army Corps of Engineers began opening some floodgates at the Bonnet Carre spillway upriver from New Orleans on Monday.

With the river continuing to rise, the corps expects the spillway to take pressure off levees in populated areas to the south. Fresh water from the river will be diverted into Lake Pontchartrain, and from there out into the Gulf of Mexico.

While the diversion will help stabilize river levels, the fresh water also poses a danger to oyster grounds that are beginning to recover from last year's BP oil spill.

The corps on Monday planned to open 28 of 350 bays that make up the Bonnet Carre spillway. It will be the 10th time the spillway has opened since the structure, about 30 miles northwest of New Orleans, was completed in 1931.

Col. Ed Fleming, commander of the corps' New Orleans district, says officials will monitor the rate of flow before deciding whether to open more bays.

The corps also has asked the Mississippi River Commission for permission to open the Morganza spillway north of Baton Rouge for the first time since 1973. The Morganza structure would send river water into the swampy Atchafalaya Basin and from there into the Gulf.

Col. Ed Fleming, commander of the corps' New Orleans district, says officials will monitor the rate of flow before deciding whether to open more bays.

Later on Monday, state officials planned to begin moving some prisoners from the Angola state penitentiary in West Feliciana Parish, north of Baton Rouge. Rising backwaters are expected to flood some portions of the sprawling maximum security prison. Officials say prisoners will be dispersed to other correctional facilities around the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this report 

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