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Mississippi River reaches historic lows

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 18th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A lack of rainfall has recently sent the Mississippi River to historic lows. The lack of water in America's most important inland waterway could significantly disrupt shipping. The U.S. Coast Guard, which plays a key role in determining whether the river stays open to traffic, is keeping one eye on the receding river while praying for rain.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Crew members on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Gasconade are trying to keep traffic flowing on the Mississippi River. Green and red buoys used to deploy and mark the shallow spots are all that stand between successful navigation of the river and disaster.
 
"As it gets narrower, there's less room to move around, and things like wind pushing on you and the shallow water coming up it makes it very difficult," Ryan Christensen of the U.S. Coast Guard says.
 
The situation has grown so severe that some barge traffic winds up stuck amid rocks or sand bars if they venture outside a 100-meter-wide, 2.7-meter-deep channel.
 
While the Coast Guard's works hard to prevent this from occurring, Chief Ryan Christensen says it's becoming more difficult as the Mississippi recedes.
 
"I think it's pretty tough. There's a lot of places where two boats can pass and now it's one way traffic that they have to choose to go through there one boat at a time," he said.
 
Barges up and down the Mississippi River carry more than $100 billion worth of goods every year. Therefore, any disruption has significant consequences for the U.S. economy.
 
"We move crude oil out of here, anhydrous ammonia, coal, all the grain products, all the farm products. So yeah, this is a pretty critical waterway," he said.
 
Marty Hettel's AEP River Operations is deeply reliant on the Mississippi. "We transport about 70-million tons of commodities on the inland waterways, with our approximately 3,250 barges," he said.
 
"About 60 percent of the water you see behind us came off the Missouri River, so as the (Army) Corps (of Engineers) cuts back the flow from the Missouri River, of course our levels in St. Louis are going to fall out," he said.
 
There are no quick fix solutions to be had. Releasing more water upstream may solve some problems downstream on the Mississippi, but it could impact future water levels throughout the system, particularly without a significant amount of precipitation in the coming weeks.

Hettel argues that the alternative could be just as bad.
 
"It's going to stop shipping between St. Louis and Cairo (Illinois) unless something is done to augment the supply of water. The only possibility of doing that is to get some additional releases off the Missouri River," he said.

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