Economy
6:57 am
Fri December 28, 2012

Mississippi Levels Drop, Barge Traffic Could Halt Mid-January

Updated 3:13 p.m. Dec. 28

The Mississippi River's water level is dropping again and barge industry trade groups warn that river commerce could essentially come to a halt by mid-January.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports ice on the northern section of the Mississippi is reducing flow more than expected.

Despite that fact, the Coast Guard remains confident that the nation's largest waterway will remain open.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is releasing water from Carlyle Lake (for the second time in two weeks) in Southern Illinois, to help increase flow in the area near Thebes, Ill.

The move is expected to keep shipping on the river operating in a limited capacity until mid-January.

After that point, without more rain officials with the barge industry say millions of tons of agricultural products, chemicals, coal and petroleum will be held up.

Ed Ide from Consolidated Grain and Barge in Cahokia, Ill. says his company has been expecting a shutdown for some time.

“We fully expect the river to have a time when we can’t move cargo up and down past St. Louis,” Ide says. “So we’ve brought in our contracts early, loaded them out already and sent them to the gulf.”

Likewise, even if the Mississippi remains technically open, Deborah Colbert of the Waterways Council, a barge industry trade group, says further load limits will make shipping unviable by mid-January.

“The impacts have already been felt,” said Colbert. “Export orders are plummeting, other orders are being curtailed or canceled altogether, and companies are considering layoffs.  And so, Jan. 15 is our D-Day.”

Colbert says barge traffic is currently restricted to only one direction in certain spots.

The Army Corps says emergency dredging and rock removal near Cape Girardeau is expected to continue until the end of January.

The latest forecast from the National Weather Service has the river level at St. Louis dropping to a record low by Jan. 16.

Follow Adam Allington on Twitter: @aallington