River traffic threatened by low water levels on Upper Mississippi
By Rick Wills
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
A section of the Mississippi River is so low that much of the navigation along the river could grind to a halt in less than a month, the owner of a Washington County shipping company says.
A summerlong drought left 180 miles of the Mississippi between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., so low that it could cut off the Upper Mississippi from the river's lower section.
“That section of the Mississippi could be unnavigable by Dec. 10. You are basically severing a main transportation artery in this country,” said Michael Monahan, president of Houston, Pa.-based Campbell Transportation, which owns and operates about 500 barges, 337 towboats and 37 shipyards.
Although officials say traffic on the Ohio and lower Mississippi rivers is not disrupted, they point out that the threatened part of the Mississippi is part of a system.
“The traffic leaving from Pittsburgh and elsewhere on the Ohio and going to the Upper Mississippi is minimal. But disruption of the waterways in such a way disrupts the system and is a national problem,” said James McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh, the nation's second-busiest inland port.
Low river levels prompted Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and the barge industry this week to ask the federal government to take emergency action.
“Congress and the administration need to understand the immediate severity of this situation,” said Tom Allegretti, president and CEO of the Arlington, Va.-based American Waterways Operators, a trade group.
The American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council have urged Congress and President Obama to act.
The remedy would be to increase water flow from the Missouri River.
The industry estimates that closing the Mississippi — even for a couple of months — could cause as much as $7 billion in economic losses.
By late summer, barges were delayed at Cairo. Rain from Hurricane Sandy and dredging on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers ended the waits.
“We dredged 24 hours day to keep the river at least 300 feet wide and 9 feet deep,” said Bob Anderson, Mississippi Valley Division, Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg., Miss.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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