Swollen Rivers Await More Water

Historic levels of high water and flooding, and the resulting silt, have closed or restricted commercial traffic on large parts of the nation’s river systems. Along the Gulf of Mexico, restricted conditions are expected to last until mid-May.

Rain and snowmelt from the Upper Mississippi have completely shut down traffic on the Upper Mississippi above St. Louis, with closing durations for most Upper Miss locks extended into mid-April and later in some cases. The Upper Midwest and Missouri River areas—already in flood state and closed to commercial traffic—were bracing at press time for another late storm that, forecasters say, could turn into another “bomb cyclone.”

On the Upper Mississippi, Locks 12 through 18 were not expected to open before April 17. Locks 20 and 21 are not expected to reopen before April 24. The Louisiana Railroad Bridge, at Upper Mississippi Mile 282, which closed on March 20, also remains closed until April 24. The river was predicted to crest at Lock 20 (Upper Mississippi Mile 343) April 11.

Hanging over the river system is the unknown impact of a developing late winter storm that will have dumped more snow and rain on the already waterlogged Upper Midwest by the time you read this. Forecasters say it could develop into another “bomb cyclone.” Between one and two feet of snow were predicted in the St. Paul area over the weekend.

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Tow sizes in St. Louis were reduced to no more than 12 barges due to the high-water conditions. From St. Louis to Cairo, tows are reduced by one string (5 barges). Daylight transit only is allowed through St. Louis harbor and under the Thebes, Ill., bridge, and these conditions are expected to last through the end of April.

Further downriver, Memphis has returned to 24-hour running. Daylight-only transits remain the rule under the Vicksburg bridge at Lower Mississippi Mile 435 and through Baton Rouge.

Based on the reduced flows in the Mississippi River at Red River Landing, the New Orleans Engineer District closed the final bays of the Bonnet Carré Spillway Thursday, April 11. The Spillway’s 13th operation began February. 27 and continued for another 43 days. At the Mississippi River’s peak flow, 206 bays were open with a discharge of 213,000 cubic feet per second being diverted through the spillway.

Significant delays remain at the Industrial Lock at Lower Mississippi Mile 93 and Algiers Lock at Lower Mississippi Mile 88.  The current queue at Industrial is 26 boats.  The current queue at Algiers is 11 boats.

Meanwhile, parts of the Houston Ship Channel remain closed as crews clean up after a refinery fire. San Jacinto River is open to 24-hour vessel traffic.  Transits through Carpenters Bayou and Old River areas remain limited to daylight only.  Transits will remain limited, controlled by the Coast Guard, until decontamination in Old River and Carpenters Bayou are complete, a process that could take weeks. A second decontamination station is being proposed to speed up the process.

On the Warrior Tombigbee River, earlier deposits of massive amounts of silt in the Aberdeen, Tenn., area at Mile 357 are keeping this area impassable to traffic.  It is not expected to reopen before the end of April.