Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were in Alton Friday as part of their annual low-water inspection.
The Corps has stepped up emergency scouring and dredging operations in response to the unprecedented low water levels in the Mississippi River Basin.
Marty Hettle works for the barge operator, AEP. He says the river forecast is not expected to trend upward any time soon.
“Memphis right now, the 28 day forecast has it going to -9.7," says Hettle, "that will be the lowest its been since the record drought of 1988. But we still see the river being able to handle the commodities in barges and able to transport.”
Approximately 60 percent of the river that flows by the Gateway Arch in St. Louis actually comes from the Missouri River.
That flow is maintained by scheduled releases from upstream reservoirs whose releases typically end later in the year. At that point the river is expected to drop even farther.
The low water levels are also exposing seldom-seen sandbar and experts are urging people to stay clear of what is often essentially quicksand.
People boating and fishing sometimes stop along sandbars. Steve Barry, emergency management chief for the Army Corps of Engineers office in Memphis, Tenn., says the drought-exposed sand along rivers like the Mississippi and Missouri has been below the surface so long that it is saturated mud. Combine that with the undercurrent of water and it creates a dangerous combination.
Earlier this month, an 11-year-old girl had to be rescued after sand swallowed her up to her waist while she and her family fished along the Mississippi near New Madrid in southeast Missouri.
Follow St. Louis Public Radio on Twitter: @stlpublicradio