No Dredges Working As Rain Raises Lower Miss

Recent abundant rainfall has led to deepened drafts and expanded tow widths. Now the system just needs more rain to keep them.

Randy Chamness, co-chairman of the Lower Mississippi River Committee, the industry task force that works with the Coast Guard and Corps of Engineers to address problem areas on the Lower Mississippi during times of extreme high or low water, was keeping an eye on a forecast calling for more rain in the Midwest over the next few days as he said he was cautiously optimistic.

“We’ve received much-needed rain through the Upper Midwest and the Ohio Valley that was very beneficial and very timely,” he said. “It finally brought St. Louis back to the positive side on the stage. We’ve drastically increased drafts on the mid- and Lower Miss.”

Forecasts called for the Mississippi to crest at -1 foot in Memphis on January 6. On the Upper Mississippi, it crested at 3 feet January 3 in St. Louis before beginning a slow fall.

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“We’re going to continue to hold on to draft for at least another week,” Chamness said January 4.

He added, “Having those rains spaced about a week apart is the key to try to climb out of this.”

Where rain falls is just as important, he said. He was hoping for more rain north of St. Louis, but said if it gets too cold for too long, snow and ice were a possibility instead.

However, “Some of the longer-range forecasts are much more favorable than what they have been,” Chamness said.

Industry increased its drafts from 10 feet, 6 inches to 11 feet, 6 inches over the past week and tow widths from six to seven wide. Chamness anticipated those would remain unchanged at least through the end of the January 13-14 weekend.

No restrictions were in place on the Upper Mississippi, but most companies were using a draft of either 11 feet or 11 feet, 6 inches from Cairo moving south, he said.

Of particular interest, beginning just before Christmas, there were no dredges working and no major channel maintenance projects from Cairo to the Gulf of Mexico, relieving marine traffic congestion, he said.

“If we can stay in the area where we’re at today and that would get us to the spring rains, that would be the best-case scenario,” Chamness said.

The question is whether rain will continue to fall regularly, he said.

While shippers and line-haulers were seeing much improved conditions, that wasn’t always the case for smaller operations.

Cap. Mark Mayo with the Dorena-Hickman Ferry, which connects Hickman, Ky., to Dorena, Mo., was relieved to see the river high enough where he could resume carrying passengers on January 2 after having not done so since August 23.

“We’ve been closed for low water for a month or two months before, but never anything out of the ordinary like this,” he said.

However, he wasn’t as optimistic when looking ahead.

“The forecast is looking like we’ll be lucky to make it through Saturday,” Mayo said, saying that if the river continues to fall, the ferry’s ramps don’t extend far enough down the riverbank so that cars and trucks will be able to access them, even with a recent lengthening of the ramp on the Kentucky side.

A year-long closure of a bridge carrying U.S. 60/62 over the Mississippi River between Cairo, Ill., and the “bootheel” of southeast Missouri also meant a longer delay for commuters, he said, noting that a recent trip to East Prairie, Mo., that would normally take him 20 to 30 minutes using the ferry took an hour and a half with the ferry and the bridge both closed.