U.S. Army Corps Kept Traffic Moving on Mississippi During Drought of 2012

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 12:00 am  

The Midwestern drought of 2012 nearly closed barge traffic on parts of the Mississippi River.

“It’s back to normal now,” said Kenny Gober, executive director of the Yellow Bend Port Authority in McGehee, one of four Arkansas ports on the Mississippi River. The others are at Helena-West Helena, Osceola and West Memphis. “But for awhile there it was touch and go.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped keep the Mississippi River open through advances made at its Applied River Engineering Center in St. Louis.

Between July and January, the Corps dredged 8 million cubic yards of sediment from the bottom of the river, which helped keep its channel clear, said Mike Petersen, a spokesman for the St. Louis district of the Corps of Engineers.

That amount compares to 18 million cubic yards dredged during a low-water period in the late 1980s, Petersen said.

“We were able to keep the channel open with less than half the dredging,” he said.

But even with all the technological advances the Corps has made, there is only so much it can do in droughts.

“There’s not a lot that can prevent [low-water levels on the Mississippi], because it’s a lack of rain,” Petersen said. “So unless we can engineer to make rain, it’s likely to be something we’ll run into again.”

He said the river will probably see low levels again in the fall and winter because of the lack of snow and rain in the December and January.

“We’re still in a drought,” Petersen said.

On Thursday, U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, announced the launch of the Mississippi River Caucus to improve the river.

“We learned a vital lesson this past fall when a potential disruption in navigation along the Mississippi threatened everything from increasing the cost to move goods to potential job losses,” Harkin said in a news release.



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