August 10, 2012
Drought conditions have reduced water levels on the Mississippi River to the extent that barges are hitting sandbars, stalling river traffic.
The disruptions result in increased costs for the shipping industry and subsequently to farmers.
Since the beginning of July, nine barges have run aground, some of which were caused by excess sediment deposits resulting from the flooding that occurred last year. The increased sediment exacerbates the problems caused by lower water levels this year.
Barges must reduce cargo loads to cope with low water levels.
Lower water levels also reduce the area of the river open to traffic. Every one-inch loss of water decreases the carrying capacity of a barge by 17 tons of cargo, according to the American Waterways Operators.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has five dredges operating around the clock on the river.
The Corps of Engineers had a budget of $21 million for operations on the upper Mississippi and thus far $17 million has been obligated for shallow-water dredging. It is possible that supplemental funding could be necessary if the drought causes further reductions in the water level.
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