Ports & Terminals

Missouri River Still Facing Shoaling, Uncertain Levels

The last bargeload of the season was unloaded at the Port of St. Joseph, Mo., over the weekend of November 21. Bill Becker, CEO of Transport 360, which has revitalized the port since taking it over, told a local news source the facility has lost about 15 bargeloads during the past year due to shoaling and light-loading. He expects the next barge at the port in mid-January.

The Corps of Engineers began reducing water flow from Gavins Point Dam in late November; by December 9 it had reached its winter level of between 17,000 and 18,000 cubic feet per second (cfs.). Gavins Point Dam winter levels normally range from 12,000 to 17,000 cfs. Last year at this time, the December reduction brought flows to 27,000 cfs. after a year of record rainfall and floods. Runoff in the upper Missouri River Basin above Sioux City, Iowa, was 1.2 million acre-feet during November, or 116 percent of average, the Corps said. 

On November 2, the Kansas City Engineer District, which has had teams surveying shoaling along the Missouri River, warned, “Currently, the river is at normal navigation flows, but extreme damage to river training structures from the Missouri River flood of 2019 is not allowing the navigation channel to self-scour to 9 feet in many areas. With little additional water entering the system downstream of Kansas City, significant sand builds up and causes shoaling, where the built-up sand causes the depth of the water to be less than 9 feet.” The survey teams have been responding to reports by towboats of shoal hot spots.

Nevertheless, Becker is optimistic about the future of barging on the river. Even with the pandemic and lower river levels, he said, business was better than in 2018, the first year the company took over operation of the port. Fertilizer will continue to move north and farm products to move south.

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“There are times when the river is too low or too high, and that’s OK’,” he told The Waterways Journal. “Ag commodities will continue to see growth on the river. We continue to see higher yields per acre, and river transportation makes more sense for a lot of that yield.”

Besides fertilizer and farm products, the port has also done its share of unloading wind turbine parts and components. “These are large components that we need to get off the highways if at all possible,” Becker said. “If we’re patient with the Missouri River, we can utilize it for many years to come.”