CARLYLE – One day after sending a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urging it to protect Mississippi River commerce, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon convened a quarterly meeting of the Mississippi River Coordinating Council (MRCC) today to address low water levels that are jeopardizing barge traffic along the river.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has previously rejected requests from state and local officials to allow increased flow from the Missouri River into the Mississippi River to offset low river levels in the Mississippi. Simon is asking officials to continuously monitor river levels and reconsider this decision if necessary.
“Extreme drought earlier this year has caused dramatically low water levels across the country, which is particularly noticeable in the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Cairo,” said Simon. “I asked the Army Corps to closely monitor this situation and intervene if necessary to preserve this essential economic resource and keep barge traffic moving along the Mississippi.”
Officials representing the USACE attended the meeting today and highlighted the impact the 2012 drought has had on water levels of both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The USACE is bound by law to annually reduce the amount of water flowing from the Missouri River in order to preserve the upper Missouri River basin. Revised forecasts show the Mississippi river water level isn’t falling as fast as first projected, and the Army Corps is ready to remove rock pinnacles that could stand in the way of some barge traffic.
Lt. Governor Simon will maintain close contact with the USACE and state and federal leaders as they monitor the situation and take further action. Already water levels are approaching 1989’s record drought levels, and barges are currently required to carry lighter loads. Proceeding to cut off water flow from the Missouri River could completely halt barge traffic as early as this month. The Corps continues to monitor water levels and will start blasting rock structures that could obstruct barges along the Mississippi River early next month.
“The Corps of Engineers has to consider the different needs of people, economy and the environment when making decisions about our water resources,” said Colonel Chris Hall, commander of the St. Louis District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “That is a challenge in years with typical water levels; it is critical in a drought. We've been able to maintain an authorized channel that keeps commerce moving on the middle Mississippi River despite historic low levels. This is only the first year of what could be a persistent drought, so we need to look at the impacts of our decisions with that in mind.”
Mississippi River commerce is estimated to be a $180 billion a year industry. If water levels drop below nine feet, barge traffic from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill. could be shut down. Corporation heads from Caterpillar, ADM, Navistar and others have joined Lt. Governor Simon in writing to Assistant Secretary Darcy. Governor Pat Quinn’s administration also continues to work with federal officials to keep the river open.
Lt. Governor Simon chairs the Mississippi River Coordinating Council, composed of a diverse group of citizens, not-for-profit organizations, and state and federal agencies. The Council coordinates initiatives, projects and funding to promote the ecological health of the Mississippi River and its tributaries by addressing the issues in the watershed.