Industry says water still needed from Missouri River to avoid Mississippi River traffic shutdown

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

ARLINGTON, Va., Dec. 18, 2012- The national trade association and public policy organization representing the tugboat, towboat and barge industry continue to urge that additional flows from the Missouri River be released to avert an effective shutdown of the Mississippi River to barge transportation.

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The represented shippers and barge operators said falling water levels will preclude navigation because towboats will be unable to transit the “bottleneck reach” between St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois. They say they need less than two percent of what is currently in the Missouri River Reservoir system.

“The release of a modest amount of water from Missouri River reservoirs during the time this rock pinnacle work occurs remains essential to allowing the continued movement of our nation's basic commodities, especially during this critical export season,” said Michael J. Toohey, President & CEO, Waterways Council, Inc. 

Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill,, held a meeting Monday in Alton, Illinois, with other Members of Congress, Illinois Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, navigation stakeholders, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard.

At the meeting, it was announced that the Corps will begin work tomorrow to blast and remove rock pinnacles at Thebes, Illinois, located south of St. Louis on the Mississippi River. The first phase is expected to take 30 days to complete, and the river is expected to remain closed to navigation between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. daily while the work is being done. 

The Corps also announced that on Saturday it started to release water from reservoirs located on the Kaskaskia River south of St. Louis to support navigation over the rock pinnacles and areas in need of dredging on the Mississippi River. The Corps said the full extent of the release should reach the area where the rock pinnacle work is being done by December 24 and “will provide up to an additional six inches of depth in this critical reach of the river.” The Corps and the Coast Guard said they see no immediate need to plan to close the Mississippi. 

However, Tom Allegretti, President & CEO, American Waterways Operators, said the amount of cargo barges can carry has already been reduced by nearly one-third and the number of barges one tow can carry has been decreased by more than one half. “For the next 30 to 60 days there will be one-way traffic for only eight hours a day, in the very best case scenario,” he added.

According to AWO, the potential supply-chain disruption could result in a loss of over 7 million tons of agricultural products worth $2.3 billion. 

“For the good of the national economy, we are looking to the President to act to direct release of the critically needed Missouri River water to enable the continued transport of exports and domestic commodities,” Toohey and Allegretti said.  


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