Low Water Continues For Middle Mississippi

The rains dumped over the Midwest by a series of fast-moving storms in the first week of August offered welcome relief to farmers, saving some crops from extended drought. But the rains weren’t enough to bring bargeloads back to full capacity on the middle  Mississippi River, and there’s no significant rain in the forecast for at least a couple of weeks.

According to Joan Stemler, chief of water control for the St. Louis Engineer District, river levels are about 8 feet below the post-1967 average for this time of year. Gages stood at 0.3 feet on August 24 and are expected to reach negative 1.8 in a week with no rain relief. Some pop-up storms over the weekend might help a little, she said. Without significant rain relief, said Stemler, “We’ll be looking at record-breaking daily lows again” by the end of August. River levels broke low-water records five times each in June and July. The St. Louis District was to meet with the River Industry Action Committee on August 25 to determine future steps.

River level charts on the website of the National Oceanic and Aeronautic Administration show a steady projected falling-off of river levels in the mid-Mississippi through early September—the beginning of harvest season.

According to George Stringham, a spokesman for the St. Louis Engineer District, the Corps dredge Potter was operating on the Mississippi River about 6 miles south of Chester, Ill., at Mile 107.2 below the confluence with the Kaskaskia River. A mechanical dredge was operating at the lower end of the Chain of Rocks Canal, north of St. Louis.

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At press time, the Coast Guard had not imposed any restrictions on Mississippi River traffic. Stemler said the 28-day outlook was “OK” for now.

According to American Commercial Barge Line on August 23, St. Louis loading drafts were reduced approximately 15 percent below normal capacity, after having been only 5 percent below a couple of weeks before. The Illinois River also saw a 15 percent reduction in loading drafts.

Panama Canal Drought Continues

The Panama Canal continues to face an unprecedented drought this year, with water levels in the lakes feeding the locks having dropped significantly. The canal has limited the number of ships that can pass through each day and instituted light-loading. The canal has restricted the waterway to ships with a draft of 13.11 meters (43 feet) to save water, and the number of ships transiting has dropped from an average of 40 per day in 2022 to 32 per day. The canal has also reduced the number of ships allowed to pre-book transit through the Panamax locks. Restrictions are expected to remain in effect until September 2.

The canal’s administrator said that the canal’s income could fall by as much as $200 million when it’s reported in 2024.