Groups say low water levels jeopardizing commercial traffic on the middle Mississippi River.
The American Waterways Operators (AWO), National Waterways Conference (NWC), Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) and 15 other national organizations have submitted a letter to President Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting a presidential declaration of emergency and seeking “immediate assistance in averting an economic catastrophe in the heartland of the United States.”
The publicly distributed letter calls attention to the worsening situation on the Mississippi River, which the groups say has already seen near historic low water levels that have restricted barge traffic on water transportation system since this summer. The groups add that the existing crisis has been heightened even further as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has begun reducing the water to the Mississippi River from dams on the upper Missouri River.
As a result of the drought and the actions of the USACE, the groups say the reduced flow of the Mississippi River has exposed rock pinnacles near Thebes and Grand Tower, Ill., potentially halting the flow of river commerce between St. Louis and New Orleans by mid-December.
The coalition of 18 groups, which includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, is requesting that President Obama declare an emergency and direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to immediately remove the rock pinnacles and release enough water from Missouri River reservoirs as is necessary to preserve a nine-foot channel on the Mississippi River to sustain commercial navigation.
In a statement made by the group, they warn that the economic impacts of a Mississippi River closure would be dire, placing $7 billion in key products such as corn, grain, coal, petroleum, chemicals and other products at risk in December and January alone, including:
• more than 7 million tons of agricultural products worth $2.3 billion;
• more than 1.7 million tons of chemical products worth $1.8 billion;
• 1.3 million tons of petroleum products worth more than $1.3 billion;
• more than 700,000 tons of crude oil worth $534 million; and
• 3.8 million tons of coal worth $192 million.
In support of the waterways groups, governors from Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, 15 U.S. senators and 62 members of the U.S. House of Representatives also wrote the Obama Administration calling attention to the severity of the situation and urging action to keep the river open to navigation.
“The time for action is now, because once the water levels on the Mississippi drop, this will be an even harder problem to solve,” says Tom Allegretti, AWO’s president and CEO. “An emergency declaration is needed now to allow the swift removal of the rock pinnacles and assurance of sufficient flows from the Missouri River while the rock removal work is taking place, both needed measures to ensure the Mississippi River can remain open at a sufficient depth to keep waterborne commerce flowing.”
“Understanding the consequences of further impairment, or certainly cessation of Mississippi River navigation during the critical winter months, this situation necessitates immediate action,” says Amy Larson, NWC president and CEO. “This can be done in a balanced and measured manner respecting other river interests, but it simply must be done.”
“The ripple effect of failing to efficiently move $7 billion in key commodities would be staggering,” says Mike Toohey, president and CEO of WCI. “The most immediate effects would be felt up and down the river, but would spread quickly from those that work on the river to those that ship on the river to manufacturing workers and eventually to all of us as consumers. This is an economic disaster in the making and the Administration needs to act now to stop it.”
To view the letter, click here.
(photo courtesy of America's Central Port)