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Mississippi River in Dire Straits

Photograph of the Mississippi River at normal levels, looking south toward St. Louis, MO. This year’s drought has cut the flow drastically, restricting commerce. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

With a potential loss of just over $2 billion in 7 million tons of agricultural products, President Obama and FEMA have received a request for a presidential declaration of emergency.

The request comes from 18 national organizations including American Waterways Operators and the National Waterways Conference, who are seeking immediate assistance in averting an economic catastrophe on the Mississippi River. Low water at near-historic levels has restricted barge traffic on the river since the summer, which the letter says is due to the drought, but the groups now fear that the situation will reach a head given that the Army Corps of Engineers has begun implementing plans to reduce the release of water to the Mississippi River from dams on the upper Missouri River. The President has not only been asked to declare an emergency; the groups also want him to direct ACE to remove rock pinnacles impairing the flow of commerce by mid-December, and to release as much water as is needed from the Missouri River to preserve a 9-foot channel on the Mississippi River, thereby sustaining commercial navigation on the latter.

With the potential to lose so much, other groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Corn Growers Association have also signed the letter. Governor Branstad and his counterparts in Illinois and Missouri, along with 15 US Senators and 62 members of the US House, have also written the Obama administration to highlight the urgency of the situation.