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Mississippi River Levels Decreasing to Near Record Levels

Could disrupt tourism, commerce

Common Dreams staff

An aerial photo of the Mississippi river shows sandy areas where water had been before the drought. The river's levels are now nearing record lows. (Photo courtesy CNN)

A stretch of the Mississippi River could be impassable to barges within two weeks due to decreasing water levels, leaving barges, recreation and other uses at a loss unless an alternative plan can be reached.

The river is already two feet below normal, according to U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty, who expects it to near the all-time low of 6.2 feet below normal in December, the Bellevue News-Democrat reports.

In August, drought conditions brought the river to its lowest level since 1988 and led the U.S. Coast Guard to close an 11-mile stretch of the river, backing up traffic on the heavily used waterway.

The conditions are expected to worsen as the drought continues and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moves to hold back water from the Missouri River into the Mississippi to make sure northern areas have adequate water.

Fogarty said:

We need to address this situation swiftly, cut through bureaucratic red tape, and prevent the closure of the Mississippi [...] At this point in time the Missouri River has been cut off as we have been expecting since early July. The Army Corps of Engineers has begun heavy dredging and the Coast Guard has been moving assets to St. Louis to help in any way it can.

In August, the ACOE set out a dozen dredging vessels to suck up sediment from the bottom of the river and spit it out to banks.

ACOE Spokeswoman Sue Casseau said restrictions on the Missouri take place every year to keep the river from becoming too low in the winter and spring, and usually don't affect the lower Mississippi. She said several states suffer from letting the Missouri get too low.

But farmers in the midwest could face sharp increases in fertilizer prices if the water levels on the lower Missouri and Missippi rivers are decreased, according to Agrinews. Agriculture leaders say fertilizer prices could increase $50 a ton if fertilizer becomes less available because barges aren't moving.

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