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River levels expected to drop

Hydrologists with the National Weather Service are expecting water levels on the Mississippi River to continue dropping over the next several weeks to about 9 feet by the end of the month, and another half foot by January 9, unless there is significant rainfall.

If the river’s depth, currently at 12 feet, gets to 9 feet or below, the Coast Guard says barge traffic will be restricted further, and barges are already carrying lighter and more frequent loads. If further restrictions occur, some operators say they will stop shipping, and if shipping is stopped for a longer time, barge industry trade groups say the economic impact could reach into the billions.

While the Coast Guard says it doesn’t expect to close the river, American Waterways Operators President and CEO Tom Allegretti says additional restrictions on barges will leave the river as good as closed.