Updated at 2:20 pm with comments from Gov. Jay Nixon.
Federal officials say they're confident that they'll be able to keep a crucial stretch of the drought-starved Mississippi River open to barge traffic and avoid a shipping shutdown that the industry fears is imminent.
The Army Corps of Engineers says crews are making "fantastic" progress clearing treacherous bedrock from a channel south of St. Louis near Thebes, Ill. Barge operators are worried that water levels in that section of river may get so low that weight limits on shipments could be further tightened, effectively halting shipping.
During an appearance in St. Louis today, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon praised the Corps for its quick work on the rock outcroppings, but repeated his call for the release of more water from the Missouri River. The Corps reduced the flow in November, and has repeatedly said that by law, it cannot consider conditions on the Mississippi when managing the Missouri.
Nixon said Mother Nature could also help a bit.
"We had a pretty good snow in St. Joe and those areas, you got six or seven inches up there, which is equivalent of an inch of water," he said. "If someone could help me get the temperature in the 50s or 60s in the coming days, I think we could get a little bit of water coming down from the north on that side."
Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty said Friday that an eventual shutdown is possible but unlikely, given the Corps' progress at Thebes and its water releases from at least two Midwest lakes into the Mississippi.