Low Mississippi River water levels cause issues for shipping industry

Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 5:55 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - Despite Missouri seeing beneficial rainfall in the last two months, nearly 90 percent of the state is facing dry conditions. Some parts are in a moderate, severe, or extreme drought.

In response to the ongoing drought, Gov. Mike Parson issued an executive order to extend the state’s drought alert until March 1, 2023. The alert was originally set to expire on December 1.

Lou Dell’Orco, the chief of operations for the St. Louis Corps of Engineers, said, “You know, the region needs rain, and more of it, just like with any drought year.”

Even though the growing season is over, the drought impacts are still felt in the agricultural industry. More concerning, the drought has had impacts on water levels. In particular, the Mississippi River, as the drought conditions are not expected to substantially improve this winter.

Dell’Orco said, “From a St. Louis gauge, we’re about five or six feet below where we’re typically at this time of year.”

A recent drought report by the National Weather Service stated river levels could reach dangerously low points during the coming winter. This could impact the shipping industry because barges cannot carry as heavy of loads when the water levels are low. This causes higher prices on shipped goods and can force companies to use other methods of transportation.

Dell’Orco said, “The St. Louis area has taken advanced measures. We’ve brought multiple dredges into our area of responsibility.”

The dredges act as a vacuum, sucking up silt in the river so barges can flow in water levels that meet government standards.

Dell’Orco said, “We’ll keep dredging until Mother Nature tells us we can’t.”

Three dredges have been used nonstop since July. Through the executive order, proactive measures like dredges are made available along the river to help combat the drought effects. The continuation of the drought alert also helps drought-impact crews to respond to problem areas and act as communicators between government and state organizations.