Politicians urge USACE to move quickly on rock formations, Missouri River diversion.
A Dec. 17 meeting in Alton, Ill., between U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), other members of Congress, Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the U.S. Coast Guard and navigation stakeholders concluded with announcements about how to address the low-water situation on the Mississippi River.
At the meeting, the USACE announced it will begin work Dec. 18 to blast and remove rock pinnacles at Thebes, Ill., located south of St. Louis on the Mississippi River. The first phase is expected to take 30 days to complete, and the river is expected to remain closed to navigation between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily while the work is being done.
TheUSACE also announced that on Saturday, Dec. 15, it started to release water from reservoirs located on the Kaskaskia River south of St. Louis to support navigation over the rock pinnacles and areas in need of dredging on the Mississippi River. The USACE said the full extent of the release should reach the area where the rock pinnacle work is being done by Dec. 24 and “will provide up to an additional six inches of depth in this critical reach of the river.”
While industry groups the American Waterways Operators (AWO) and the Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) say any additional water is welcome, they also say “this offers only a delay of the inevitable, an effective halting of barge transportation around the end [December] as Mississippi levels continue to fall to a level that cannot support most navigation.”
The two groups continue to advocate for what they call “minimal flows from the Missouri River (less than 2 percent of what is currently in the Missouri River Reservoir system) to be released to avert an effective shutdown of the river to barge transportation.”
“We deeply appreciate Sen. Durbin’s willingness to hold this meeting today to address the low-water crisis on the Mississippi,” says Michael J. Toohey, president and CEO of WCI. “The release of a modest amount of water from Missouri River reservoirs during the time this rock pinnacle work occurs remains essential to allowing the continued movement of our nation’s basic commodities, especially during this critical export season.”
Tom Allegretti, president and CEO of the AWO, adds, “Sen. Durbin and the many other lawmakers who have been engaged during this crisis are to be commended for keeping communication open between stakeholders and the Corps and Coast Guard, but this situation continues to deteriorate. The amount of cargo barges can carry has already been reduced by nearly one-third and the number of barges one tow can carry has been decreased by more than one half.”
According to the two trade groups, the agriculture industry has already witnessed cancelled orders and plummeting export projections as the reality of the loss of cost-effective barge transportation becomes apparent.
“For the good of the national economy, we are looking to the President to act to direct release of the critically needed Missouri River water to enable the continued transport of exports and domestic commodities,” Toohey and Allegretti write in a joint statement.