ST. LOUIS — The up-and-down Mississippi River is down again, and the Army Corps of Engineers began rock removal efforts Tuesday in an attempt to ensure the river remains open to barge traffic through the winter.
The corps said Tuesday that contractors will remove about 2,800 cubic yards of rock over the next several months from the bottom of river. It is an extension of work that began last winter near the southern Illinois towns of Thebes and Grand Tower, roughly 100 miles south of St. Louis, when the middle Mississippi River reached to near-record low levels after months of drought.
A wet spring led to significant flooding, but a dry fall has the river low again. At Thebes, the river was at 7 feet on Tuesday — 26 feet below flood stage, according to the National Weather Service. At Cape Girardeau, Missouri, it was at 8.2 feet — flood stage there is 32 feet — and expected to fall nearly another foot over the next week.
The Mississippi is a crucial line of transportation for many goods, particularly agricultural products. The corps says more than 100 million tons of cargo pass through middle Mississippi River each year. A complete shutdown would have a multi-million dollar impact on the economy and could potentially impact the cost of goods, especially ag-related products, for consumers.
Last winter, the water level of the middle Mississippi was so low that barges were ordered to carry less weight, helping them to ride higher and above the jagged rocks on the river bottom.
Corps officials are working with the U.S. Coast Guard and the barge industry to make sure the latest round of rock removal has minimal impact on barges. The work will likely result in one-way river traffic in the work area. There will be a limit of 15 barges per tow, and a no-wake restriction.
Other work continues in the effort to keep the river open, including dredging that has been ongoing since July, corps officials said.