Natchez area tributaries take on water

By Emily Lane/The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Bobby Cauthen, his chickens and his honeybees are feeling residual effects of the 2011 Mississippi River flood.

Just a block off of busy Highland Boulevard, Cauthen’s all-purpose outdoor shop at the back of his property has taken in a few inches of floodwater.

The waters came not directly from the swollen Mississippi River, but from a backed-up St. Catherine Creek and Spanish Bayou.

Natchez City Surveyor Tony Moon said the creek was backed up with river water for few miles near where the Liberty Road bridge crosses the creek.

The shop, which Cauthen and his sons use for cabinet building, honey making, lawnmower fixing and other purposes, is located near the intersection of the creek and the bayou.

Cauthen said 3.5 acres of dry land that normally stretch beyond his shop are now under water.

The flood has raised the creek level from barely knee-high to 22-to-25 feet deep, Cauthen said.

To prepare for high creek waters, Cauthen moved his chickens to a temporary coop located higher up on his property.

“They are not happy,” he said.

Five chickens including three on Thursday died after being repeatedly bit by Buffalo gnats — another pesky side effect of water from the river backing up to his property.

Five honeybee hives that usually stand near the creek’s bank had to be moved to his son’s property behind Stine Lumber Co.

“That was the least amount of fun of everything I’ve ever done in my life,” Cauthen said of hauling off the bees.

Moon said the creek and other tributaries near the area are not entirely backed up because of their elevation.

“It can only back up so far,” Moon said.

City Engineer David Gardner said the biggest threat of backed up tributaries is erosion.

Gardner said the slower the water recedes the better for the banks of St. Catherine Creek.

Cauthen said he can already hear the sloughing, or dropping off of the creek bank at night.

“It’s loud,” Cauthen said. “It sounds like a landslide.”

Gardner said an extended forecast by the National Weather Service predicts a slow recession of the river level, at least for a few weeks.

“But (dropping water levels) are going to start speeding up,” he predicted. “If it gets to be more than a foot a day, it’s going to stress (the creek banks).”

Gardner said a rapid water level decrease possibly in late June could cause problems.

Although much of the creek’s bank line is held in place by the high water, the water, especially on the lower end of the creek, has overtopped its bank, Gardner said.

Cauthen worries that a big rainfall on top of the water as high as it is will wash away his shop all together.

“St. Catherine Creek flushes like a giant commode,” he said.

Cauthen’s family already moved tools to higher ground in the shed, and heavier equipment and table saws were moved to storage bins on higher ground at the front end of the property, Cauthen said.

Cauthen pulled the shed door closed, which he said was a rare occasion, to avoid letting snakes slither in to surprise him. He said he has spotted approximately 20 snakes since the water worked its way up into his backyard.

“We’re not talking Garter snakes — water moccasins,” he said.

Gardner said erosion of the creek could also cause problems for city infrastructure.

Natchez Waterworks has many miles of sewer gravity trunk lines installed throughout the creek in low-lying areas, Gardner said.

Gardner said the Homochitto River, which winds through Adams, Wilkinson and Franklin counties, has a larger drainage area than St. Catherine Creek.

Moon said the Homochitto River is backed up past U.S. Highway 61 South and possibly all the way to U.S. Highway 98, which stretches from Bude to McComb.

Gardner said a backed-up Homochitto River will not have as much of an urban impact as it will a rural one.

“It will more so impact farmland and people’s property.There is nothing industrial at that point,” Gardner said.

The Buffalo River, which crosses U.S. 61 South in Wilkinson County, has already flooded low areas west of the highway, Moon said.

Moon said those flooded areas are mostly woodland or farmlands.

Gardner said a long-term silver lining of flooding farmland is that it will deliver nutrients to those areas.

But the changing of the Buffalo River’s course due to flooding could cause problems for farmers, he said.

Moon pointed out Adams County, luckily, has enough options of high ground to avoid major flooding from the Mississippi and its tributaries.

“The good thing about Adams County is there’s enough high land, people usually don’t develop (in flood’s way),” he said.

For neighbors in Concordia Parish, for instance, Moon said there are fewer options due to mostly low areas and residents must depend on the levees to protect developments.

Although Cauthen’s shop is located lower than most homes in Adams County, he is sure he has never seen the water near as high as it was Thursday in the 45 years he has lived on the property.

Cauthen said he has tried to fight a high Mississippi River at his old property below the former International Paper, and has learned it does not do much good.

“I’ve fought that river for 45 years, and you just cannot beat it,” he said. “It’s going to do what it wants to.”

Cauthen said on an upside, however, it has been interesting seeing in recent days kayakers paddle through his backyard, asking for directions.

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Information from: The Natchez Democrat, http://www.natchezdemocrat.com/