‘America is going to shut down if we shut down’: The Mississippi River’s water levels are near record lows, and it’s wreaking havoc on one of the U.S.’s most critical supply chains

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Mississippi River drought
Mississippi River drought: ‘America is going to shut down if we shut down’. Picture: Luke Sharrett

Traffic jams and stuck barges are clogging up a critical artery of the U.S. economy, as a prolonged drought pushes the Mississippi River’s water levels to near-record lows.

Around 500 million tons of supplies are ferried along the Mississippi River every year with trade value worth $130 billion, according to the Port of New Orleans, mainly agricultural products, like corn and soybeans, along with fuel products. The Mississippi River Basin produces more than 90% of U.S. agricultural exports, according to the National Park Service, and nearly 80% of the world’s grain exports.

But all that is coming to a standstill amid historic drought conditions that are making the river untraversable for most shipping barges. River levels are now at their lowest level in a decade after historically low rainfall in recent months, becoming the latest supply-chain snag to hit the U.S.

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“America is going to shut down if we shut down,” Mike Ellis, CEO of American Commercial Barge Line in Indiana, told the Wall Street Journal this week.

River traffic jams

The low water levels have clogged up entire sections of the Mississippi River in recent weeks, wreaking havoc on the local economy.

At least 2,000 barges were backed up along the river last week, Bloomberg reported, citing data from the U.S. Coast Guard. Also last week, the Coast Guard warned that at least eight heavy barges had become “grounded” in particularly shallow parts of the river.

With fewer barges able to navigate the river and longer wait times, prices are starting to go up.

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“It’s definitely having an impact on the local economy, because the commercial use of this river has almost completely stopped,” George Flaggs, mayor of Vicksburg, Miss., told local news channel WAPT earlier this week, adding that the river around Vicksburg is the lowest he’s seen it in nearly 70 years.

“This will actually affect us in a very negative way. We have to have less cargo on our barges and less tonnage moving. It affects our revenues,” Austin Golding, president of Golding Barge Line, told WAPT.

It’s the worst possible time for a drought in the Mississippi, as early fall is typically when grain is harvested in the Mississippi Basin and sent down the river. Soybeans are the most commonly shipped commodity on the river, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, but the low water levels are throwing the supply chain into chaos.

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Full soybean trucks are being turned away from loading stations along the river entirely, Ted Kendall, a farmer near Vicksburg, told local channel WLOX this week.

With water levels so low and the river’s flow weakened, salt water from the Gulf of Mexico could start creeping upstream, which would threaten local ecology and drinking supplies. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced plans at the end of September to construct a sill—an underwater obstacle—to halt the salt water’s flow upstream.

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The Mississippi River tends to experience seasonally low water levels in the fall, the corps said, but with drought conditions persisting across the Mississippi’s headwater regions in the Midwest, it may be a while before water height returns to normal.

“Basically, we’re not seeing any heavy rainfall over the next several weeks to indicate that we would get any relief from low water conditions for the lower Mississippi,” Jeff Graschel, a National Weather Service hydrologist at the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, told the New York Times last week. [Fortune]

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16 Comments

  1. The drought in the west is partly to blame at least for the Missouri River’s contribution. I live near one of the many tributaries of the Missouri River and it is the lowest I have seen since I moved here 17 years ago. You can walk across it now and not get wet when it normally fills it’s roughly 50-100 foot channel fully across.

  2. There are other ways to move freight.Yes longer and more of a hassle.
    Perhaps more expensive.
    Now would be the perfect time to deep dredge very deep dredge
    It would clear and clean the channels.
    However if it’s done very very deep it could help with flood control.Deeper channel
    wider channel means more space for flood waters to occupy.
    It would help mitigate it.If it’s coupled with a Yslide
    bank wall to a deep hole or underground reservoir it could add a backup water source in droughts either back to the river(probably cheaper and easier)or purified and made potable

    • On the Earthquake Guys You Tube, there’s 120 miles of river just north of New Madrid that is virtually gone. Can’t float a boat even. He figures all the big quakes in the Ring of Fire have opened up cracks and the river is dumping underground. They are not telling us everything on this video posted perhaps. This guy is usually pretty good. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_XWW9CNWMU&t=236s

      • Hmmm, you and Michael have been sounding the Madrid fault alarm for a while now. Makes me wonder if that one will pop a fuse.

        You know, if water is seeping into fault areas that could exacerbate and contribute to a massive slip.

      • Yeah cracks in the earth’s surface are occurring more.Some of is shrink swell soil.However these cracks are deep long and in areas not usually too troubled by s ands soil.What I have taken notice of though most are near old ancient faults.I think the old ancient faults are more active than they think.Earthquakes at this depth aren’t usually felt at the surface.Yet it would take awhile for the energy to reach the surface potentially causing some of the cracks.
        We have had several deep set earthquakes that have and are being felt.You can actually feel the energy wave.If you are driving its like being in a wind storm from every angle including underneath the car truck.It also has a signature of physically feeling as though the barometric pressure has suddenly bottomed out but it’s coming from below your feet.It lasts about a minute maybe two.The former lasts about thirty seconds.

    • 🥱 Spewing off topic drivel as usual, Anonymous droll-troll?

      How about getting a job, and contributing to society? Or how about chasing all those CRISP nephelim babies that you say are crawling up refrigerators?

      lolollolllollllolllll

  3. I would like to know the following:
    1) USA River management records, including dredging and routine/emergency water level management of lakes, rivers and tributaries for the last 15 years
    2) USA Weather station maps and records, including off line stations and closed stations for last 25 years
    3) USA Weather station Standard Operation Procedures/ guidelines including differences between original SOP when program was established compared to current SOP/guidelines
    3) USA rain fall records for the last 15 years
    Annual funding, along with the annual hiring, retention and employment levels of above agencies for the last 15 years would be icing on the cake.
    After digesting the above information, I will begin formulating my somewhat informed opinion on current water levels in America.

    • Well, the records are probably fudged. So the data will be as good as so-called peer reviewed science. Worthless.

  4. Hmmm, well trains can move freight. Cargo airplanes can move freight. Trucks can move freight. Let’s get a solution implemented! No use sitting around lollygagging.

    • Really, now we have a situation that could repeat. Great news. Glad I live far away, and stocked another case of rice + multiple cases of beans. Better get some fresh hens for laying and more ducks. At least we had enough rain to fill my pond 25%.

      • I suppose if/when the New Madrid event occurs, they’ll blame that on Geoengineering as well. In truth, the world will be too busy dealing with the event to care. All the liars and deceivers (Commies) will be curled up in a fetal position sucking their thumbs.

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