Low water levels continue to be a concern for shipping on the Mississippi River. A supply chain disruption on the Mississippi River could affect 7.2 million tons of commodities valued at $2.8 billion in January alone.
The waterways industry, agriculture industry partners, and other stakeholders continue to closely watch water levels on the Mississippi River and work to prevent a severe disruption in barge traffic.
In response to concerns raised by industry stakeholders, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expedited issuance of contracts to begin removing rock pinnacles in the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill. Due to the drought and historical low water levels on the river, the rock pinnacles have emerged, reducing the depth and width of the shipping channel used by barges. Normally, the Corps would not have started the rock removal work until January and would not have finished until late February. The expedited process is expected to result in the first phase of work being completed in 30 days and provide 1.5 feet of additional depth in the shipping channel. It was scheduled for completion by the end if this month.
The Corps also announced that it released water from reservoirs located on the Kaskaskia River south of St. Louis to support navigation over the rock pinnacles, providing up to an additional six inches of depth in this critical stretch of the river.
A number of agricultural industry representatives attended a briefing from the White House Domestic Policy office on Dec. 20 to get an update and discuss additional options.
The Corps and the waterways operators have different views on the ability to maintain the 9-foot channel depth without the release of water from Missouri River reservoirs. The depths will depend on a combination of factors over the next few weeks, including whether it rains, if portions of the river north of St. Louis freeze and reduce water flow, if a predicted warming trend melts existing snowpack, and how fast the rock removal work proceeds.
Release of additional water from the Missouri River is strongly opposed by interests in that region, including governors, farmers, residents, and Indian tribes. The Corps has indicated that new releases from the Missouri River, that also has low water levels from this year’s drought, are not under reconsideration at this time.