Reduced river flows threaten navigation, shipping

Reduced flows on the Missouri River in the next few weeks may force shipping restrictions on the Mississippi. The drought prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reduce releases from upstream dams.

The concern is with a stretch of the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Cairo, Illinois, which could become too shallow for barges, said Mike Steenhoek, Executive Director for the Soy Transportation Coalition.

“Between 40 and 65 percent of the volume of that water in that critical segment is from the Missouri River and so if you have a diminishment of the flow of water on the Missouri, it’s really going to impair the ability to move soybeans and other agricultural products on the Mississippi River,” Steenhoek told Brownfield Ag News Monday.

The vessels that tow the barges, many of which carry grain and soybeans to the Gulf of Mexico for export, need at least nine feet of depth to operate. Steenhoek says that’s not ideal for shippers.

“Not only are barge companies having to load lighter, but they can’t have as many barges attached to one flotilla or tow, and so it really hits you in two ways as far as the efficiency of the transportation,” said Steenhoek. “That’s just an added cost.”

The Mississippi River may become that shallow in early December.

AUDIO: Mike Steenhoek (7 min. MP3)

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