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Army Corps moves to keep river open

The Army Corps of Engineers will reportedly take one of the steps requested by a large group of organizations and lawmakers to maintain navigation on the Mississippi River.

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt and two river industry trade groups say the Army Corps has informed them that work to blast barge-impeding rock pinnacles in the middle of the river could start next week – an important step in keeping the river open to barge traffic.

Even so, barge traffic is in jeopardy as the drought has left water levels as much as 20-feet below normal along a 180-mile stretch from St. Louis, Missouri to Cairo, Illinois. Adding to the problem was an Army Corps decision last month to cut the outflow from an upper Missouri River dam by 2/3rds.

Officials with American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council Inc. say the corps needs to restore some of that flow along with the expedited rock removal. According to Waterways Council Inc. President and CEO Michael Toohey, the release of sufficient water from Missouri River reservoirs during the time this rock pinnacle work takes place is essential to preserving a nine-foot channel on the Mississippi River that will sustain commercial navigation and the movement of American commodities and exports.

On Tuesday, river depth at St. Louis was roughly 12 feet. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, further restrictions on barges may be necessary at levels of around 9 feet. The National Weather Service predicts the river will reach that level late this month if there is no significant rainfall. While the Coast Guard doesn’t expect to close the river – American Waterways Operators President and CEO Tom Allegretti says any additional barge restrictions will leave the river as good as closed. The trade groups say a prolonged stoppage of barge traffic could have an economic impact reaching into the billions of dollars. Ag groups have said 7 million tons of agricultural products worth $2.3 billion would be at risk.

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