The continued drought across the Plains and Upper Midwest is having a byproduct impact. Shipping on the Mississippi River may be impacted by continued dry weather across areas that feed water into the major waterway in the middle of our country.
A 200 mile stretch of the Mississippi River from St. Louis downriver to Cairo (where it meets the Ohio River) may be shutdown because of low water levels. This is due to an Army Corps of Engineers plan to reduce water flow from a reservoir that feeds into the Missouri River upstream along the Nebraska-South Dakota border, which flows into the Mississippi near St. Louis.
According to USA Today, "(t)he corps annually decreases water releases to ensure adequate reservoir levels and to prevent ice buildup and flooding. This year, already-low river levels caused by drought could shrink to the point that barges carrying grain, coal and other products won't be able to navigate the Mississippi, says Debra Colbert of the Waterways Council, which represents ports and shippers."
The flow on the Missouri level is projected to drop by two-thirds over the next couple of weeks as water is conserved in the reservoir. River levels on the Missouri have been rather low to begin with because of drought conditions that have persisted for months across the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Southwestern Minnesota (which feeds south into the Missouri basin).
River levels on the Mississippi at St. Louis, which are running three feet below the recommended barge "low water level" on the river, are projected to drop another foot in the next week. The record low level is six feet below where the gauge is normally placed at, with that record dating back to 1940.
Given the projection that the Midwest and Plains will continue to remain dry over the next several weeks, the possibility of continued low water levels on the Mississippi remains high.
Commerce on the river, such as barges shipping grain downriver from the Midwest, may be limited further or effectively shut off without any significant rain (or snow) in the coming weeks. Also, the ability to get fertilizer upstream for Midwest farmers would be curtailed as the river would effectively be shut down if water levels decrease dramatically due to drought.