Working around the clock, five dredges directed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are battling extreme low-water conditions along the Mississippi River to keep commercial navigation moving on America’s super highway.
With dredges moving rapidly from one trouble spot to another to keep up with dynamic low water operational demands, the Corps is also working very closely with the navigation industry and the U.S. Coast Guard to communicate concerns, groundings and changing conditions to avoid accidents and river closures.
Unless additional rainfall occurs, the latest long-range forecast calls for river conditions to continue to fall through the end of August with new low-water records possible at several key navigation points along the lower Mississippi between Cairo, Ill., and Baton Rouge. Several joint navigation interest teams, including the
Lower Mississippi River Committee and the River Industry Executive Task Force, are meeting daily to address the low-water issues with closer coordination and continuous communication.
Of particular concern are the harbors along the lower river that require additional dredging as the water levels possibly fall to historic lows. The harbors serve as on-ramps for the transportation of 500 million tons of commodities that are transported annually along the 12,000-mile-long inland waterways system. The Corps operates 19 shallow-draft harbors on the lower Mississippi River and several may close temporarily until dredging can be executed. The plan is to keep the majority of the harbors open to provide a reliable conduit for perishable goods and other critical commodities.
Along the upper Mississippi River, 29 locks and dams maintain a minimum navigation channel depth of nine feet. As river levels continue to fall however, dredging will keep trouble spots open in the river between the locks. Dredging will continue along the middle Mississippi River although existing river training structures such as dikes and chevrons have provided improved navigation conditions and reduced dredging requirements for many areas.
Release no. 12-014