The Army Corps of Engineers is working to keep traffic on the Mississippi River flowing, but they fear barge traffic may grind to a halt by the second week of the year.
“It’s a major artery to the Gulf Coast no doubt, all the exports go down this river to the center gulf, and the artery is clogged, it’s clogged up,“ said Mike Rodgers with the Army Corps.
Crews near St. Louis are using heavy equipment and explosives to remove two feet of material from the bottom of the main channel through the Mississippi. That would keep the river at the required 9 feet barges need to maneuver on the river, but the added depth is only temporary, without rain soon, the Army Corp predicts the river will drop another two feet.
Levels that low would prevent all barge traffic including the 60 percent of corn and soybean exports that travel down the river.
With water levels falling, those whose livelihood depends on the river are expecting to see their jobs cut.
“We’re already hearing about potential layoffs at waterside and landside manufacturing facilities, and just for January alone we’re estimating that at least 8,000 jobs are going to be impacted,” said Debra Colbert with the Waterways Council.
In order to prevent more job cuts, shippers are asking the Army Corp of Engineers to increase the flow of water down the Missouri River, which would eventually raise water levels along parts of the Mississippi.
The Corps did start to increase the amount of water released at Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota last week, when ice forming on the river threatened to reduce the flow. Now that the weather has improved the Corps plans to do exactly the opposite. They are in the process of gradually reducing the amount of water coming from the dam. The Army Corps says they have to hold back the water because the drought is ongoing.