Low Water Threatens Arkansas River Navigation

As Mississippi River levels continue to sink, barge traffic from the Arkansas River is being restricted.

After dipping briefly on October 18 to -12 feet at Memphis, breaking more low-water records, Mississippi River levels crept slightly upward to -11.67 feet, according to U.S. Geological Service river gages. River levels were forecast to remain at around -10 through the end of the month, according to the National Weather Service.

Although he was quoted by one news source as saying barge traffic from the Arkansas River into the Mississippi River was “shuttered,” Bryan Day, executive director of the Port of Little Rock, told The Waterways Journal that barge transits are still possible –  if tow sizes are restricted and light-loaded. The Arkansas River joins the Mississippi at Napoleon, Ark., about halfway between Memphis, Tenn., and Vicksburg, Miss.

“The Arkansas River itself is still fine for barge traffic with full 15-barge tows. But that doesn’t matter if they can’t access the Mississippi River with full tows. The Mississippi River is the backbone of the entire inland waterways system. If it’s not working, nothing is working,” Day said. He said the Memphis District dustpan dredge Hurley was working the mouth of the Arkansas River, and another Corps dredge was scheduled to join it.

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Day said there were no barges in the Port of Little Rock as of October 19, although it was not clear whether that was due to the restrictions or to ordinary scheduling. “There may be some in the queue,” he said.

Further up the Mississippi River, the Corps dredge Goetz was transitioning to the Alton, Ill., area, while the Corps dredge Potter continues to dredge near Commerce, Mo., 39.5 miles above the mouth of the Ohio River.