ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – There are fresh fears today that barge traffic on the Mississippi River could grind to a halt in the next week.

Ann McCullough has been keeping an eye on the situation for the American Waterway Operators and says the forecast is “cause for great concern.”

“We remain concerned that the short-term forecast for the Mississippi River continues to drop and that we may be looking at…commerce on the Mississippi River coming to an effective halt sometime between January 5th and January 15th,” she said.

The prediction stems from the latest Army Corps of Engineer weather and water forecasts for the river near Thebes, Illinois, south of St. Louis. In a joint statement released today by the American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council, Inc., the groups say that by mid-January a nine-foot draft on the river will fall to eight feet. Most towboats require a nine-foot draft to operate though a “very small number of towing vessels” can operate at lower drafts, according to the trade organizations.

Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers released water from Carlyle Lake down the Kaskaskia River in order to stave off a potential shutdown in early-January.NOAA graphic dec 2012

Warning of the early-January shutdown, the American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council had urged the Army Corps of Engineers to release water from Missouri River reservoirs.

“The Corps’ rock pinnacle removal and dredging work and our collective prayers for rain have not produced enough water to sustain navigation on the Mississippi River and so the [Obama] Administration must act to avert a closure,” Waterways Council, Inc. President and CEO Michael Toohey said in a release Thursday. “We have been urging action all along and the time is now to release needed water or we will have run out of time on this national crisis.”

Today, Toohey echoed that sentiment.

“The uncertainty of this deteriorating situation for the nation’s shippers is having as much of an impact as the lack of water itself,” Toohey said. “The Administration must direct the Corps to release enough water to sustain navigation on the Mississippi River now or time will have run out and an effective shutdown could remain in place for weeks.”

According to data cited by the WCI and AWO, a commercial shutdown of the Mississippi River in January could affect more than 8,000 jobs and 7.2 million tons of goods worth nearly $3 billion.

“As these new economic numbers clearly indicate, our nation’s shippers, farmers, manufacturers, operators, and consumers, and working Americans with jobs now at risk, will be hard hit in the first month of the New Year unless water is provided now to avert a shutdown,” AWO President and CEO Tom Allegretti said in a release.


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