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Corps, Barge Industry Watch Mississippi River Levels With Wary Eyes

Kelly Martin
Via Wikimedia Commons

After flooding this spring, a dry summer has slowly dropped water levels on the Mississippi River.

The River gauge in St. Louis was close to zero on Sunday morning and could drop to negative two feet by the end of the month.

U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Peterson says they’re watching the situation closely.

But after last year’s drought threatened to stop barge shipping, he says the Corps is better prepared for a low water situation this fall and winter. 

“We told the river industry we weren’t going to close the river,” Peterson says.  “The Coast Guard came through, the Corp came through and the river industry came through.  Having those folks at the table last year dealing with that kind of crisis, I know going into this year we have the right team of folks built.  We’re ready for whatever kind of low river we see this year.”

Peterson says in November crews will begin work to finish a rock removal project near Thebes, Illinois, south of St. Louis, where low water almost shut down the barge industry in January.      

Dennis Wilmsmeyer, executive director of America's Central Port,says barge operators may have to start reducing their loads if water levels continue to drop.

“Usually at this time of the year we’re at between 10 or 15 on the gauge, hovering somewhere around there,” Wilmsmeyer says.  “We’re a full 10 feet below that right now.”

Historically, the river’s low point comes during the winter months.

Mighty, Moody Mississippi

The Mississippi River has swung between massive flooding and near record-low water levels over the past two years. The below chart shows every river gauge reading at St. Louis between May 7, 2011 and Sept. 14, 2013. Run your cursor over the blue line for each river gauge reading or use the slider on the bottom of the chart to zoom into a specific time period.  

Credit: Tim Lloyd, St. Louis Public Radio. 

Tim Lloyd was a founding host of We Live Here from 2015 to 2018 and was the Senior Producer of On Demand and Content Partnerships until Spring of 2020.

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