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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Missouri-Mississippi River Water Woes

A lengthy drought takes it toll on the water levels of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, leading to demands for presidential intervention and scary headlines, like this one from the St. Louis Business Journal, "Low levels on Missouri, Mississippi rivers create water war".

"So what?" some of you east of the Mississippi or on the West Coast may ask. That's because you don't fully appreciate how much this river system is used as a transportation system.

Naturally, conflicting river water usages creates political controversy, as noted by Platts in "US Army Corps rejects request to open dam to raise Mississippi River"
The Army Corps of Engineers has rejected a plea by several US lawmakers to reopen a South Dakota dam to raise the level of the Mississippi River before it falls too low for barge traffic.

In a letter released Friday by Senator Dick Durbin's office, the agency said it cannot legally alter its wintertime plan for managing the Missouri River. The Corps decides each fall how much water to impound on the upper Missouri to meet the needs of communities above the Gavins Point Dam.
. . . the Corps has started to address concerns about Mississippi navigation through other means.

It advertised an expedited contract to remove underwater rock boulders threatening to halt barge traffic near the Illinois towns of Thebes and Grand Tower. . . .

The Corps also plans to dredge about 21 sediment shoals in the middle Mississippi.


Barges carry crude oil, petroleum products, coal, grains and other commodities on the Mississippi year-round.
For all the seeming simplicity of a river-based transport system, it can sure get complex.

Fewer river barges may mean more trucks on the road, causing more pollution and increasing transport costs.

Now, contemplate some of the national security issues that might be involved.

UPDATE: At eight feet of water, some barges will stop. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

Top ten low water records for St. Louis from NOAA:
(1) -6.20 ft on 01/16/1940
(2) -5.70 ft on 01/26/1963
(3) -5.60 ft on 01/01/1964
(4) -5.32 ft on 12/26/1989
(5) -5.00 ft on 12/12/1937
(6) -4.60 ft on 12/29/1933
(7) -4.50 ft on 01/16/2003
(8) -3.80 ft on 01/01/1990
(9) -3.53 ft on 12/08/2005
(10) -3.20 ft on 12/18/1988

NOAA water level forecast:
Could make the top ten if this keeps up.

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