From: Tim Wall, Discovery News
Published January 9, 2013 08:46 AM

Drought Still Threatens Mississippi River

A new year has started, but last year's drought is still afflicting the United States. The latest map from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly 73 percent of the contiguous U.S. is still in drought. Rain has slaked the thirst of parts of the Northeast and Southeast, but dry conditions expanded in other regions.

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The southern Mississippi Valley recently received rainy relief as a belated Christmas present, but the northern stretches of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their headwaters remained parched.

The retreating river may have a costly effect on American commerce. An important stretch of the Mississippi south of St. Louis, Mo. may soon be shut down to barge traffic. Most of the towboats that haul barges along the river need at least a 9-foot draft, the depth at which the ship's hull and propeller sit in the water. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (USACE) latest weather and water forecast warned that the river may drop to only an 8-foot draft, rendering the waterway impassible to most towboats.

Earlier,the USACE had warned that the river could become unnavigable by January 15. However, efforts by the USACE to blast away rocks near Thebes, Il. (see image above) have successfully bought more time for barge shipping, according to a press release from the American Waterways Operators (AWO) and Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) The river will now likely stay open through January.

After January, the future of Mississippi River traffic is still as murky as the river's waters, and that makes planning difficult for river captains and shippers.

Article continues at Discovery News

Image credit: Richard Heim, NOAA/NESDIS/NCDC

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