Barge traffic on the Mississippi River could be halted due to low river levels. (Photo by Carrie Muehling/WJBC)
By Carrie Muehling
BLOOMINGTON – Groups like the Illinois Corn Growers Association continue to watch the historically low water levels on the Mississippi River.
Federal lawmakers and the barge industry have requested more water be released into the Mississippi from the Missouri River, but those requests have been turned back by the Army Corps of Engineers.
“I’m not sure anybody has ever experienced this, at least in the last generation, or two or perhaps three. We’re going to be living this experience in living history, probably, as it goes unless we start getting a lot more rain. Obviously if the drought continues, this is going to be something that hangs on us for all spring, hopefully not into the summer,” said Rodney Weinzerl, executive director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association and a member of the board of directors for Waterways Council, Inc., an advocacy group working on behalf of commercial users of inland waterways systems.
Adding to the challenges are rock pinnacles in the river, which are usually submerged at depths out of the way of barges and other river vessels. With the low water levels, those pinnacles need to be removed.
“It appears that the pressure from the administration and Congress on the Corps has the Corps moving more quickly with the rock pinnacle removal,” said Weinzerl.
The date for removal was originally set for Feb. 4, then moved to Jan. 3 and now scheduled for sometime in December. Weinzerl said the unofficial word is that there also might be two contractors on the project rather than one, which could shorten the scheduled 60 days originally needed to remove the rock. Further complicating matters is the fact that the Mississippi River receives 78 percent of its water flow from the Missouri River, which is now being slowed by the Corps.
“It still looks like we’re on schedule to go to an all time low unless the heavens open up and it begins to rain, or we start trying to figure out where to get water from somewhere else, because the Corps, at least for now, pretty much said they’re not going to change their plan relative to Missouri River releases,” said Weinzerl.
Weinzerl said short of rain, the only source of water for the Mississippi is the flow from the Missouri. He continues to watch websites with information about the river levels.
“Looks like the low water mark, which was going to be towards late December, around Dec. 24, might look more like around Jan. 4. The water from the Missouri River releases has begun, began about two weeks ago. On Monday the release went from 18,000 to 16,000 cubic feet per second,” said Weinzerl. “We now believe that the Corps will not be able to get to the 12,000 that they originally targeted to get to. They’re just beginning to have too many problems with not enough flow on the Missouri River because a lot of the other tributary rivers that feed into the Missouri River are not enough to maintain a comfortable water level supply for communities all along the Missouri River.”
For now, Weinzerl will wait to see what the bottom of the release looks like to get an idea of what the schedule of navigation will look like later this month on the middle Mississippi between St. Louis and Cairo.
Carrie Muehling can be reached at email@example.com.