The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this past weekend started an increase of water being released from Carlyle Lake in Southwestern Illinois in an effort to raise the level of water on the Mississippi River. Shipping has been threatened by low water volumes especially around Thebes, Ill., where rock formations pose a threat to barges because the rock is only 5 feet below the surface.

According to the Corps, Carlyle Lake is one of several reservoirs where above-normal water amounts were collected in anticipation of the lower levels on the Mississippi. Releases from Carlyle began Saturday and will increase gradually to 4,000 cubic feet per second by Monday afternoon. The full extent of the release is expected to reach Thebes by December 24th. The official position of the Corps is that water releases will continue if needed until the river level increases through precipitation.

The problem is that even with the lake water, the river level is reportedly only expected to rise about six inches with that rise reaching the Thebes stretch of the river on Dec. 24. The Mississippi Valley division commander, as of Oct. 17 had authorized all the lakes on the Upper Mississippi River system to hold an additional 10 percent above seasonal pool levels in anticipation of the historic low levels on the Mississippi River. The Carlyle Lake release is only a three-week additional of water because the lake is expected to reach its winter pool level in that time frame.

Equipment has been moved into position to start removing the rock formations this week. Some reports were that explosive blasting will be necessary. The rock removal has been needed for years.

To improve the shipping channel, additionally dredging has been ongoing since early July, with the U.S. Army Dredge Potter moving more than 6 million cubic yards of sediment out of the navigation channel, the Corps further reported.

While thanking the Corps for its efforts to improve the shipping channel, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said, “Keeping the Mississippi River open to commercial traffic is critically important for the economy of the state of Illinois and the entire upper Midwest.”