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River Shipping On Mississippi Remains At Risk

New data suggests 7.2 million tons of commodities are at risk after drought drives water levels down

Published on: Jan 3, 2013

Due to historic low water levels on the Mississippi River as a result of the continuing drought, waterways groups continue to warn that a closure in January could severely affect the supply chain.

The American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council, Inc. on Wednesday released revised data on the costs of a potential shutdown, noting that if the river levels continue to drop between Jan. 7 and 31, the potential supply-chain disruption could affect more than 8,000 jobs, $54 million in wages and benefits, as well as 7.2 million tons of commodities valued at $2.8 billion.

AWO and WCI note that the figures do not take into account supply chain uncertainty during December or any potential economic impacts that will extend into February if traffic on the Mississippi comes to a halt.

Shipping on the Mississippi remains at risk due to low water levels.
Shipping on the Mississippi remains at risk due to low water levels.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' latest weather and water forecast for the Mississippi River near Thebes, Ill., south of St. Louis, where rock pinnacle removal work is taking place, suggests that commerce on the Mississippi River could come to a halt between Jan. 5 and 15 when the required 9-foot draft will fall to an 8-foot draft. The majority of towboats require a 9-foot draft to operate and only a very small number of towing vessels can operate at 8- or 7-foot drafts.

Stakeholders continue to urge the Administration to release water from Missouri River reservoirs to avert this shutdown of the Mississippi River to barge transportation. While the Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard have said that they will not officially close the river, falling water levels and a lack of sustained water will hinder towboat navigation between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill.

"The uncertainty of this deteriorating situation for the nation's shippers is having as much of an impact as the lack of water itself," said Michael J. Toohey, WCI's president and CEO. "The Administration must direct the Corps to release enough water to sustain navigation on the Mississippi River now or time will have run out and an effective shutdown could remain in place for weeks," he continued.

The Army Corps of Engineers continues to dredge and work to remove rock pinnacles to ease navigation, but Tom Allegretti, AWO's president and CEO, says halting waterborne commerce and exports during the busiest period for agriculture shipping will have impacts on the entire nation.

"As these new economic numbers clearly indicate, our nation's shippers, farmers, manufacturers, operators, and consumers, and working Americans with jobs now at risk, will be hard hit in the first month of the New Year unless water is provided now to avert a shutdown," Allegretti said.