The unusually low water level in the lower Mississippi River causes barges to get stuck in mud and sand, causing delays for shippers, boaters and even cruise line passengers.
Due to the lack of rainfall in recent weeks, the Mississippi River is approaching record levels in some areas from southern Missouri to Louisiana. The US Coast Guard said at least eight “running aground” barges have been reported in the past week, despite low tide restrictions on barge cargoes.
One of the groundings occurred Friday between Louisiana and Mississippi, near Lake Providence, Mississippi. It halted river traffic in both directions for days “to clear the aground vessels from the canal and deepen the canal through dredging to prevent future grounding,” said Sabrina Dalton, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in a statement. e-mail.
As a result, dozens of tugs and barges lined up in both directions waiting to pass. The interruption also brought an end to a Viking cruise ship with about 350 passengers on board, said R. Thomas Berner, a professor emeritus of journalism and American studies at Penn State, and one of the passengers.
The Viking ship was originally scheduled to depart New Orleans on Saturday, but the water there was so low that the launch was moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Berner said.
On Tuesday, the ship was shut down near Vicksburg, Mississippi, due to the backup caused by the grounding. It was not near a dock, so passengers couldn’t leave. The crew of the ship kept people busy with music, games and other activities as much as possible.
“Some of us take a nap,” Berner joked.
The stuck pontoons were freed on Tuesday afternoon. Berner said the cruise ship restarted Tuesday evening. It will arrive in St. Paul, Minnesota on October 15.
Nearly the entire Mississippi River basin, from Minnesota to Louisiana, has seen less-than-normal rainfall since late August. The St. Louis South Basin has been largely dry for three months, according to the National Weather Service.
The timing is bad as barges are busy transporting recently harvested corn and soybeans across the river.
Lucy Fletcher of Brunswick agricultural retailer AGRIServices, who sits on the board of the St. Louis-based trade association Inland Rivers, Ports & Terminals, said the navigation problems on the Mississippi, Missouri and other major rivers are making some shippers look elsewhere. of transportation.
“Can they transfer to the track?” Fletcher asked. “Well, there isn’t an abundance of rail availability. And usually people book their transportation for the fall early in the season. So if they haven’t booked that freight yet, you’re going to see people in big trouble.”
Fletcher said that with the supply chain still stalled after the COVID-19 pandemic, trucks are also largely fully booked and unavailable.
To keep river traffic flowing, the Corps of Engineers dredged the Mississippi in several places and placed limits on the number of barges each tow can move.
Last week, Louisiana Corps officials said the low river level allowed… saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico creeps up into the Mississippi. They planned an underground dike to keep salt water out of the water treatment plants. The shallow water also forced mid-September closure of a ferry which transports vehicles across the Mississippi River between Kentucky and Missouri.
The forecast for much of the Mississippi River Basin calls for continued dry weather for the foreseeable future. Fletcher hopes winter will bring some relief.
“We need a good year to melt a lot of snow,” she said. “The whole system just needs some water.”
AP journalist Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee contributed to this report.
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