Economy
3:10 pm
Mon December 17, 2012

Illinois Leaders Meet In Alton To Discuss Mississippi Drought

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, in Alton, Ill.
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, in Alton, Ill.
Credit Adam Allington / St. Louis Public Radio

Illinois politicians and business leaders met in Alton on Monday to discuss ongoing efforts to keep shipping open on the drought-stricken Mississippi River.

The meeting coincides with work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove rock formations from the riverbed just south of Cape Girardeau.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin called the drought situation “a historic challenge," saying that additional measures may have to be taken to keep commerce functioning.

The senator also cautioned that the ballooning cost of natural disasters brought on by climate change should be part of the current budget talks.

“The cost of these disasters that we are facing, these extreme weather disasters, goes way beyond what we had anticipated,” Durbin said. “The average expenditure by the federal government for disasters each year is $11 billion, average, over the last 10 years.”

Durbin noted that the cost the government paid for Hurricane Katrina was $120 billion and the estimates for Hurricane Sandy could reach as high as $80 billion.

In addition to blasting rock pinnacles, the Corps of Engineers is also releasing water from Carlyle Lake in southern Illinois, to augment flow along a key stretch of the river.

Corps set to blast rocks

Barge traffic on the Mississippi River is being restricted as crews prepare to blast underwater rock formations threatening shipping just south of Cape Girardeau.

The Corps of Engineers is working with private contractors to complete the job.

Major General John Peabody says removing the rocks will create an extra foot or so of depth, which he’s hoping is enough to keep shipping open through the winter.

“It’s impossible to say without a weather forecast that can tell me what’s going to happen 30 days out, and I don’t have that,” Peabody said. “But, historical indications are that, yes, this will get us through this stretch, but it’s possible that it won’t.”

Months of drought have left water levels up to 20 feet below normal along a 180-mile stretch of the river from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill.

The problem worsened when the corps recently cut the outflow from the Missouri River, which flows into the Mississippi just north of St. Louis.

Follow Adam Allington on Twitter:  @aallington