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Rivers & Flood Control



The Atchafalaya River is a distributary of the Mississippi, but this developed over a period of time.  The two rivers have an interesting history that includes people trying to merge the two, resulting in three rivers that meet in the area known as Old River.

  • BEFORE THE 15th CENTURY:  The Red River and Mississippi River were separate rivers, more or less parallel.

  • 15th CENTURY:  The Mississippi River turned west and a loop, later called Turnbull's Bend, formed.  It intercepted the Red River, which became a tributary of the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya River was formed as a distributary of the Mississippi River.

  • BY 1778:  The entrance to the Atchafalaya River was occluded by a logjam.

  • 1831:  Capt. Henry M. Shreve, founder of Shreveport and a world-renowned river engineer, dug a canal through the neck of Turnbull's Bend, thus shortening river travel time.

Over time, the north section of Turnbull's Bend filled in with sediment.  The lower half remained open and became known as Old River and linked the three rivers.



In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, huge floods along the Mississippi River increased the size of the channel and the carrying capacity of the Atchafalaya River until concern mounted that it might capture most of the flow and redirect the Mississippi again. Congress directed the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to build a control structure that would allow restriction of the flow down the Atchafalaya River to 30% of the total flow down the Mississippi and the Red Rivers. The 70-30 split, as it came to be known, was approximately the breakdown of the flow in the 1950s and was thought to be a reasonable choice that would allow the Mississippi River to maintain its current route. The Corps completed the first elements of the control apparatus in the 1960’s.

In 1973, a large flood threatened to destroy the main control structure and the Corps began a redesign of the control system to include additional structure elements. The resulting “Old River Control Structure”  (ORCC) that exists today was designed and built to allow as much as half of the combined flow of the Rivers to be diverted down the Atchafalaya during a major flood and to allow configuration of the flow to minimize stress to the structures.

Bonnet Carré Spillway
Morganza Spillway


Lock & Dam # 5 – Joe D. Waggonner Jr. – Directions from Shreveport, La.. – Follow La. Hwy. 1 south 15 miles.

Lock & Dam #4 – Russell B. Long – Directions from Coushatta, La. - Follow La. 480 south 10 miles.

Lock & Dam #3 – Directions from Colfax - from downtown Colfax, follow main street 2 miles.

Lock & Dam #2 - John H. Overton – Directions from Marksville, La.- Travel La. Hwy. 107 to Hwy. 454.  Turn left on Hwy. 454 and then continue 10 miles and turn left on Lock And Dam #2 road. You can also continue past the first Hwy. 454 junction to a second junction with the same road and turn left on Hwy. 454 and continue 2.7 miles and turn right on Lock And Dam #2 road. The first route is a bit slower but more scenic.
Directions from Pineville, La. – Follow La. 107 south 15 miles. Then follow the signs to the lock.

Lock & Dam #1 – Lindy C. Boggs – Directions from Marksville Louisiana – Follow La. 107 north across the Red River.  Turn right on La. 1198 and continue for 15 miles. This will take you to the closed side of the dam.  To get to the Broulliette side, catch LA Hwy. 452 from LA Hwy. 1, south of Marksville, follow along the Red River about 12.5 miles to the Lock and Dam Road.  Turn left and proceed to the dam.

Old River Lock & Dam – Directions from Marksville, La. – Travel south 25.5 miles on La. Hwy. 107/La. Hwy. 1 towards Lettsworth, La.  Turn left on La. Hwy. 15 / La. Hwy. 970 five miles.  Turn right and continue .04 miles and follow the signs to the Old River Lock



Atchafalaya National Heritage Area

• National Park Service affiliate
• "Passport to Your National Parks" Program
• Member of Alliance of National Heritage Areas
National Park Service Affiliate Louisiana Travel - Pick Your Passion Alliance of National Heritage Areas