Low Mississippi threatens barge traffic again
If no significant rain appears by Dec. 11, “we could see impacts to navigation. The Coast Guard will issue a warning to the navigation industry that ‘you don’t have a reliable 9-foot deep, 300-foot-wide channel’,” said Bob Anderson, chief of public affairs for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division. “You cannot maintain it if you have little to no water in the system.”
Anderson said that upstream reservoirs are “tapped out now. We’re really depending on the rain.”
“We got a 10-foot bump from Sandy in the lower Mississippi below Cairo,” he said. Water falling in western New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all drain into tributaries of the Mississippi. The Engineers are hoping West Coast “Pineapple Express” fronts and storms up the East Coast will help put water back it the system.
“If an area covering several hundred square miles gets an inch of rain, that could equal several feet on the Mississippi River gauge,” he said.
The river users group warned of dire consequences if the river had to close to traffic; halting $7 billion in products, including $2.3 billion in agricultural products at risk in December and January.
For now, the river is working in favor of Arkansas’ corn and soybean growers.
“There’s an economic bonus for our growers because the river south of Cairo is open and the commodities can be shipped,” Stiles said. Soybean growers were receiving a basis 55 cents above the Chicago Board of Trade, while corn growers were getting 28 cents above CBOT.
After the first of the year, the challenge for farmers up and down the Mississippi is whether needed fertilizer will be able to come up the river from New Orleans. “If the river is closed, you can move fertilizer by truck or rail, but that would move at a slower pace and at a higher cost,” he said.