Amidst drought, lawmakers fret over shipping on the Mississippi

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



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WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2012 - Cheers from some lawmakers, and jeers from others, greeted news today that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will hasten to divert water from the Missouri River into the drought-depleted Mississippi.

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Senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., met with Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy today to discuss the possibility of allowing water to flow over Missouri River dams to relieve the Mississippi. The senators had previously asked the White House to declare a state of emergency in the states surrounding the river, which would authorize the Corps of Engineers' water release.

The drought has caused the Mississippi to dip to levels close to nine feet - the point at which barge traffic is unable to pass.

According to Durbin, Darcy agreed to respond to the senators' concerns within the week, and said the Army Corps of Engineers would expedite the process of releasing water from the Missouri “as soon as the law would allow.” Darcy also pledged to speed up the removal of Illinois rock formations that are “part of an obstacle course for barge traffic along a stretch of the Mississippi,” according to McClatchey Newspapers.

Almost $7 billion worth of shipped goods hang in the balance - that's the amount of product shipped down the Mississippi every December and January.

Archer Daniels Midland, one of the largest food processors in the world, told Agri-Pulse today that it had begun to consider alternative shipping methods, should the Army Corps' efforts fail.  “We are working with industry associations to help state and federal government officials understand the severity of this issue,” the company said through a spokesman.

Not all are pleased with today's announcement. Senator John Thune, R-S.D., joined a number of fellow lawmakers in signing a letter to President Obama that questioned the wisdom of diverting the Missouri.

“Communities along the Missouri have already been hit hard by the drought,” Thune said in a press release. “These communities rely on the Missouri as a water source, and according to the Corps of Engineers, water levels on the Missouri are already 20 percent below the normal drought levels for the season. I call on the president to deny requests for water releases in order to prevent the harmful impact such actions would have on Missouri River states in both the short and long-term.”

The senators also argued that diverting water from the Missouri would be outside the Corps of Engineers' legal purview. 


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