CHICAGO Certain sections of the Mississippi River could
close to commercial traffic by mid-December due to low water
conditions unless action is taken to increase flows or remove
obstacles, shipping sources told AMM
Water releases from dams on the upper Missouri River are scaled
back each November; this year, that would reduce already-low
water levels on the Mississippi even further, particularly
between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., according to Arlington,
Va.-based trade groups American Waterways Operators (AWO) and
Waterways Council Inc. (WCI).
The groups have asked officials to allow the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers to quickly contract a project to blast rock
formations that, at low water levels, block navigation.
Of particular concern are hazardous rock formations ...
(that) threaten navigation when water levels drop to
anticipated, near-historic lows, the AWO and WCI said in
a joint statement . The rock formations, combined with
the reduced flows from the Missouri River, will prohibit the
transport of essential goods along this critical point in the
river, effectively stopping barge transportation on the middle
Mississippi River around December 10.
We need to address this situation swiftly, cut through
bureaucratic red tape and prevent the closure of the
Mississippi, AWO president Tom Allegretti said in the
A spokesman for the St. Louis district of the Army Corps said
the agency reduces flow from dams every year, which typically
causes a drop in river levels of between 2 and 4 feet.
We have been dredging nonstop since the first of
July, mainly from Hannibal, Mo., to Cairo, the spokesman
The Army Corps also uses structures to direct water to the
middle of channels to naturally scour the bottom for deeper
drafts. The dredging cutter cannot remove rock, so the Corps
would have to contract that service out.
Meanwhile, the Army Corps is talking (with shippers)
about priorities and keeping commerce moving.
Marty Hettel, senior manager of bulk sales for St. Louis-based
AEP River Operations, said his barges are facing the same
difficulties now as they do in the summer (
amm.com, Aug. 3
We are still at a nine-foot draft (with vessels) still
loading lighter (and shipments) still costing more, he
Gavins Point Dam on the upper Missouri River currently releases
38,000 cubic feet of water per second. The Army Corps will
start cutting back Nov. 23, reducing the rate to just 12,000
cubic feet by Dec. 1, Hettel said. Within days, water in the
Mississippi at St. Louis will drop from minus 4.6 feet to minus
7.6 feet, and rocks between miles 39 and 46 will be too close
to the surface.
Without sufficient rain in the next two weeks, it will in
essence shut down navigation, Hettel said. I have
no idea what the consequences will be. There is not enough rail
or truck (capacity) to support that kind of tonnage. Its
a serious scenario.