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Another drop in water levels could halt commerce on Mississippi River this week

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 3rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

America's single most important waterway, the Mississippi River is suffering such severe low water levels shipping traffic between the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico could be halted by this week. Weathering the worst drought in U.S. history since 1956, the river's levels will only rise slightly between Missouri and Illinois before plunging again to historic lows.

LOS ANGELES, CA(Catholic online) - The Mississippi's water levels have already prevented the flow of dollars worth of grain, coal, fertilizer and other commodities.

Authorities said last week that the river along the Cairo, Illinois and St. Louis stretch would be too low for navigation by January 7. Shipping may come to a halt as soon as between January 5 and 15.

A shutdown could affect more than 8,000 jobs, cost $54 million in wages and benefits and halt the movement of 7.2 million tons of commodities valued at $2.8 billion.

The Army Corps of Engineers remains hopeful that the nine-foot-deep channel, which most commercial vessels need, can be maintained. The group is leading a project to remove river-bottom rock that could impede shipping if the river becomes too shallow.

Forecasts for warmer weather, which would limit river-choking ice from forming coupled with the potential for rain next week, bolstered that outlook.

The Corps is now removing the most threatening rock pinnacles near the Illinois towns of Grand Tower and Thebes first, hoping to deepen the shipping channel by about two feet by mid-January.

\"The Corps rock removal contractors are making excellent progress in removing the rock obstructions from the primary area of concern,\" Major General John Peabody, the Corps\' Mississippi Valley Division Commander says.

\"We believe we will deepen the channel ahead of the worst-case river stage scenario, and I remain confident that navigation will continue,\" he said.

Various soft-bottom sections of the river are being dredged nearly round-the-clock for months to maintain a deep enough shipping channel. The vast majority of commercial vessels need a depth of at least nine feet. Shippers are closely monitoring river gauges and forecasts.

The Mississippi River gauge at Thebes fell from a reading of 4.45 feet late last week to four feet late on Wednesday. It was forecast to rise to 4.2 feet on Friday morning before slipping to 3.2 feet by next Wednesday, the lowest level at Thebes since 1988 and the second lowest on record.

The Army Corps has said once the Thebes gauge reads two feet, boats with a nine-foot draft, or distance between the water\'s surface and the lowest point of the vessel, would be at risk of hitting rock pinnacles there.

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