In response to the economic challenges of the coronavirus, land-based logistics are sorting themselves out. American ingenuity is working out solutions. Truck and rail routes are being adjusted to protect workers. Cargoes are continuing to move by land and water. Panic buying may temporarily empty some store shelves, but there is no shortage of food, household cleaner and other necessities—not even toilet paper!
Truck and rail workers have also, like barge workers, been declared “essential workers.” But barge transportation is more important than ever. As towboat Capt. Terry Hall told Reuters, “We move a lot of stuff that this country needs desperately. We’d clog up every road in the system with trucks if we stopped moving out here.”
To keep that cargo moving, this year’s high-water challenges must also be met. The National Weather Service recently lowered its flood forecast of Upper Mississippi River flooding from severe to moderate. That’s good news, but moderate flooding is still flooding. The Lower Mississippi is in flood stage from Cairo to the Gulf, driving a 5–10 barge tow size reduction. Daylight restrictions in Memphis, Vicksburg, and Baton Rouge are increasing transit times by as much as one or two days.
Even if this year’s flooding doesn’t approach last year’s record-breaking numbers, it’s overlaid on top of the coronavirus crisis. That’s serious for several reasons.
Flood responses require complex, coordinated actions by groups of people who cannot always maintain social distancing.
Many cities, towns, and counties that support levee districts are also being hit by loss of revenue from widespread business closures. Let’s hope that the state and localities distributing the money from the just-passed coronavirus stimulus bill remember that river cities, towns and levee districts will need extra help, above and beyond what they might normally get, to fight floods this year while simultaneously coping with the coronavirus and keeping flood fighters safe.
No less than police and firefighters, Coast Guard members and Corps of Engineers workers—both uniformed and civilian—are on the front lines of the virus fight, as well as the flood fight. The same is true of volunteer members of county and state levee boards and other officials involved in flood fights. These workers and volunteers will all need protective clothing and equipment as they deal with the high water and flooding.