Sunday, August 05, 2012
America's Latest Drought Victim - the Mighty Mississippi
America's drought has forced traffic closures on the Mississippi River in Wisconsin and Arkansas and in Mississippi it's not even knee deep in places.
"It looks like a coastline out there," said Reynold Minsky, president of the 5th Louisiana Levee District board. "There are more beaches on the river than there are in Florida."
The story is repeated along the length of the river.
The Mississippi river is drying up and some shipping companies are worried that the drought of 1988 may be repeated, a time when the river dried up so much that barge traffic came to a standstill. In 1988 the shipping industry lost $1 billion, a number that would be far higher in 2012 and could be reached in as little as three days.
Almost all of the rivers 2,500 miles are experiencing some type of low water level. Just outside of Memphis the river is 13 feet below normal depth while the National Weather Service says Vicksburg, Mississippi is 20 feet below normal levels. Overall the Mississippi is 13 feet below normal averages for this time of year.
The drying up river is forcing barge, tugboat and towboat operators to navigate narrower and more shallow spots in the river, slowing their speeds as they pass dangerously close to one another.
In some parts of the Mississippi the river is so narrow that one-way traffic is being utilized.
Because of the shallow water levels shippers have been forced to load less cargo which has left them with lower profit margins over fears that they would run into the rivers floor with heavier freight.
Industry analysts predict that closing down the Mississippi will cause losses up to $300 million per day and then grow exponentially over subsequent shutdown days. An idle tugboat alone costs nearly $10,000 to operate daily.
The Army Corps of Engineers is employing dredges to keep channels open to navigation.