Barge traffic at a standstill as river level drops during drought

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by Ray Preston / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on July 17, 2012 at 7:09 AM

Updated Monday, Nov 25 at 4:28 AM

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV-TV / AP) -- The river levels are dropping and barge operators are tying up parts of their fleet. They're also shipping lighter loads because of the low water conditions. Drought conditions are gripping much of the country.

On Tuesday,  Missouri Governor Jay Nixon traveled the state to survey damage from Missouri's hot, dry summer.

Nixon planned to meet with farmers and local officials in Lewis County in northeast Missouri, in Atchison County in northwest Missouri and in Polk County in southwest Missouri. The governor is to be joined by the state's agriculture director.

The National Agriculture Statistics Service says topsoil moisture is short in almost all parts of the state and creeks and streams are running dry. It says the condition of the state's corn crop has declined significantly in recent days, and more than 90 percent of the state's livestock pastures are now in poor condition.

In Memphis, a year ago, the Mississippi River swelled to near-historic proportions and flooded farms and homes from Illinois to Louisiana. Now, the water level is so low that cargo barges have run aground and their operators have been forced to lighten their loads.

Those who make their living on the river say it's remarkable, yet normal. The river can be fickle and is high some years, low in others.

Tommy Hart is the director of the port in Greenville, Miss. He says he's hoping for rain, something he usually doesn't like.

The low water levels mean cargo ships have to carry lighter loads, which means they make less money each trip.

The shrinking river has been caused by low rainfall totals, as well as a mild winter.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says the state will offer an array of debt restructuring and loan programs to farmers and ranchers affected by the drought.

He visited a family farm in the southern Illinois on Monday, where much of the corn crop is wilting.

Quinn says the state has also launched a website to help. It's drought.illinois.gov

The Illinois Farm Bureau says it's the six driest year on record so far. The average precipitation of the first half of the year was 12.6 inches. Much of Illinois' corn and soybean crop is suffering.

Drought is affecting much of the Midwest, where almost a third of the nation's corn crop has been damaged by heat and drought so severe that some farmers have cut down crops midway through the growing season.

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