Just in time for the spring ramp-up of barge traffic, the
middle Mississippi River is finally wide and deep enough for
near-normal seasonal navigation thanks to dredging projects
winter precipitation, according to a major barge operator and
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps of Engineers
removed 8 million cubic yards of sediment and rock between
August and March, twice as much as would be dredged in a year
without a drought, said Mike Petersen, spokesman for the
agencys St. Louis District. As far as draft (the
depth allowed for moving vessels), there are no restrictions
right now, and barges and tows are loading normal amounts.
Traffic is moving. We are through the tough spot. The
only thing left to do was rebuoy the channel--moving buoys
farther apart to create a four-lane path in a two-lane
Commodities shipped on the
Mississippi River include steel, aluminum, scrap, ferroalloys
and metallurgical coal.
Since the end of December, when low water levels became
critical, the Army Corps of Engineers has provided
two more feet of water by blasting rock pinnacles at Thebes,
Ill., according to Marty Hettel, senior manager of bulk sales
at St. Louis-based AEP River Operations. Weve
(also) had tremendous help from Mother Nature in the form
We are in much better
shape, Hettel said, adding that vessel operators also
look forward to the spring release of water from the Gavins
Point Dam on the upper Missouri River north of Sioux City,
Petersen said the release should
add to the Mississippis channel depth at St. Louis. This
winter, the Army Corps of Engineers twice released water from
Carlyle Lake, a reservoir along the Kaskaskia River near St.
Louis, to ensure minimum drafts.
I think we are through the
critical times, Hettel said. But who knows what
happens next fall, when the Corps shuts the reservoir on the
Missouri again? Well cross that bridge when we come to
it. Meanwhile, AEP is able to load 12-foot depths and
expected to get back up to 25- to 30-barge-tows per push.
The Army Corps of Engineers is
well aware that droughts typically last more than a year and is
prepared to respond if river levels get low later this year,
The Army Corps of Engineers had
been dredging between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., since last
summer to preserve the rivers depth and width.
The total amount of cargo
transferred through the two locks closest to the Thebes blast
site fell in 2012, Army Corps of Engineers statistics show.
Tons shipped through the Mississippi Lock and Dam 25 fell 23
percent in December vs. a year earlier, while total 2012
shipments fell 3.8 percent; tons passing through the Chain of
Rocks Lock in December were off 22.1 percent from a year
earlier and annual volume was off 4.1 percent.
Thomas Allegretti, president of
Arlington, Va.-based trade group American Waterways Operators,
said earlier that further assurances are needed to
provide industry with the certainty necessary for sound
business and transportation planning. Economic damage has
resulted from that uncertainty. For months, the size of
some tows carrying commodities was cut in half, transit times
more than doubled and orders were canceled or curtailed.
Shipments of materials along the
Mississippi River had been facing severe delays since last
summer due to low water levels, and the situation likely would
have worsened had action not been taken, according to market
Without the Army Corps of
Engineers emergency actions to ensure water levels didnt
fall below what is necessary to support inland waterway
navigation, barge traffic along the Mississippi River between
St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., could have come to a halt in early
December, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries told its
ISRI said the problem had been
due to a combination of low water levels, the annual operating
plan of the Army Corps of Engineers to reduce flow into the
Mississippi from the Missouri River, and rock formations in the
water that needed to be removed to allow passage of the barges
during low water conditions.
Water levels on the Ohio River
at Cairo--where it meets the Mississippi--dropped to 10.4 feet
from 11.14 feet during the first three weeks after
Thanksgiving. Barges and tugboats require a 9-foot draft to
For many months, our difficulty in accessing the
river--ordinarily a routine element in our sales
program--created serious challenges for us as a supplier to
mills, which typically prefer to source scrap along the inland
waterways due to favorable freights, a scrap industry
source said. The additional loading costs and dead
freight charges resulting from seriously low water levels
resulted in significantly reduced utilization of this mode of
transport, putting further pressure on the already higher rail
freight treatment of scrap.