Drought-related low water along the Mississippi River continues to be problematic for barge and other boat traffic. The National Weather Service currently predicts that river water levels will continue falling over coming weeks. Various methods of keeping the Mississippi River open to traffic, and avoiding large local and national economic impact, are being explored.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been monitoring the river daily, and dredging to maintain the channel’s depth. Barges have reduced their underwater draft from 12 feet to 9 feet, which means they must make lighter and more frequent trips to transport goods. Should the allowed draft be reduced to 8 feet many barge transportation companies may choose to halt shipments, which will have a local and national economic impact.
Water levels are projected to decrease 2-4 feet at St. Louis through the end of December. Beyond dredging, additional means to keep the Mississippi River open to traffic are being explored. Options include underwater rock removal at strategic locations near Grand Tower, Ill. and Thebes, Ill., and possibly releasing water downstream from reservoirs along the Missouri River.
Blasting to scale down rock formations, both north and south of Cape Girardeau, will likely take place in early 2013. The Corps of Engineers is currently evaluating the situation, and will release a rock removal timeline in the near future.
The following from the Corps of Engineers details the current drought situation, Mississippi River water levels, and includes a rock removal information brief.
What is it?
The Mississippi River Valley and the Missouri River Basin are experiencing drought conditions equal to or worse than any condition of the past five decades. Weather forecasters predict that this may be the first year of a multi-year drought situation. The Corps of Engineers continues to maintain safe and reliable navigation in extreme low water as we continue to set record low water stages in St. Louis District. River and Reservoir Report
What is U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doing?
The St. Louis District has been preparing for low water for decades through an innovative river engineering program. River Training structures – rock dikes that use the river’s energy to move sand out of the channel – are a large part of why barges are still moving despite historic lows in some areas. River training structures provide a more reliable channel, reduce the need for maintenance dredging and improve the ability of commerce to move on the Middle Mississippi. We have increased channel patrol and surveys, publishing survey information on the web for all to use.
The Dredge Potter, a Corps dustpan dredge, has been dredging around the clock since early July to maintain the channel. View weekly navigation updates.
The Corps of Engineers also works collaboratively with the U.S. Coast Guard, the River Industry Action Committee and the Harbor Association on the U.S. Coast Guard’s recent update of the Waterway Action Plan.
Rock Pinnacles near Grand Tower, Ill. and Thebes, Ill.
We will be able to maintain a nnine-foot deep channel to a stage of -5 on the St. Louis gage, the point at which rock formations in the river near Thebes, Ill., pose a risk to navigation. The Corps of Engineers’ St. Louis District is working on a contract to remove the most critical rock formations early next year (tentatively starting early January). We have also created and provided electronic navigation charts overlays of this area at various river stages for mariners. Information on removing rocks/project brief
Why does this matter?
The Mississippi River is a major artery for domestic and international commerce. More than 60 percent of America’s agricultural exports go from harvest to market via the Mississippi River. The St. Louis District is responsible for maintaining a nine-foot-deep, 300-foot-wide navigation channel on 300 miles of the Mississippi River, 80 miles of the Illinois River and 36 miles of the Kaskaskia River.
Can we use more water from the Missouri River?
Reduced flows from the Missouri are an annual occurrence on the Mississippi River. Reduced flows in early December are expected to lower the river at St. Louis and below by 2-4 feet. We consider the impact of those reduced flows in planning our dredging work.
The Missouri River is congressionally authorized to operate in the interest of the Missouri River Basin. Multipurpose reservoirs anywhere in the Corps of Engineers have to find balance between the many needs of people and the environment, including water supply, hydropower, flood control, navigation and other needs.
With no indication that this drought will be over soon, we have to make careful, informed decisions on what we do with our water resources.