In the above picture, taken over the Christmas holiday, river levels in a braided channel of the Mississippi River are only 4 feet deep. The river is deeper in other places, and is still able to accommodate barge traffic.
Ice and concern about the Mississippi River are both growing as cold weather is further reducing water levels. Some now predict barge traffic could come to a halt in the next two weeks.
Water levels are projected to drop another 3 feet at the river gauge in Thebes, Illinois on January 7. That means the channel will be just 10 feet deep – a 9-foot operating draft on barges. As such, the Army Corps of Engineers expects new limitations on river traffic will go into place. With no relief in sight, it’s predicted the river gauge at Thebes will indicate an 8-foot depth by January 23. The Coast Guard has indicated traffic will remain open, but the Waterways Council and the American Waterways Operators have suggested that further limitations on barges would result in de facto closure as commercial traffic grinds to a halt.
National Corn Growers Association Chairman Garry Niemeyer says the drought is at the core of the current issues on the Mississippi River, but adds that the situation also highlights the need for infrastructure improvements. He notes NCGA has been pushing for lock and dam upgrades since 1993, but the federal government has failed to respond.