Justin Wingerter

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – On the same day that two trade organizations predicted a commercial shutdown of the Mississippi River could occur as early as January 3, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released water from Carlyle Lake. The release, according to the American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council, Inc, could postpone a complete shutdown until at least mid-January.

Yesterday, the two groups issued a release, stating vessel drafts will be limited to 8 feet by late next week. Towboats require a nine-foot draft to operate while a “very small number of towing vessels can operate at 8 or 7-foot drafts.”

Calls to the Corps of Engineers Thursday were not returned but the AWO and WCI announced Friday morning that the Corps had released water from Carlyle Lake Thursday. That release, along with an updated weather forecast, changed the expected date of a commercial shutdown. Under the new projections, the river gauge at Thebes, Illinois will drop below ten feet around January 7, below nine feet around January 15, and below 8 feet around January 23.

“Currently we are looking at a January 15 D-Day for effective closure of the full majority of navigation,” Deborah Colbert, Senior Vice President with Waterway Council, said Friday. “Given that just a few days ago it was looking like January 3 or 4 would be that date, this is welcome news.”

“The Corps also suggests that its rock pinnacle removal efforts may begin to have an impact on the controlling depths around January 20, but that is still to be determined,” the AWO and WCI said in a release Friday. AWO Vice President of Regional Advocacy Lynn Munch had expressed similar skepticism over the effectiveness of rock removal efforts Thursday, saying it was too little too late, despite an effort by the Corps to expedite rock removal which was originally slated to begin in February.

“The full majority of towboats cannot operate at less than a 9-foot draft, so the majority of navigation will cease on or around mid-January according to this latest forecast without more water,” the two trade organizations said Friday.

When asked if the Corps was delaying the inevitable, Colbert said “yes, that’s the way we’re looking at it.”

“We do need to get additional water whether it comes from the sky or whether it comes from Missouri River reservoirs or more from Carlyle Lake or any viable source. We need to get significant water so it will sustain navigation until the rock pinnacle work is removed so that navigation can continue,” she said.

The AWO and WCI continue to push the Obama administration to release water from Missouri River reservoirs, a move the Corps has repeatedly avoided. Nonetheless, Colbert said the organizations view the Corps as a partner which “does terrific work” and a “good job at keeping the river operating.”

“Of course, the drought is not their fault, that’s Mother Nature, but we believe the humans need to act and do the right thing here and release enough water to sustain navigation to keep that commerce moving, particular during this export season which is really from now until March,” she said.


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