Not again! Yep, again. Think back to late in 2012 when the Mississippi River was at a low water level, and emergency measures were being taken to keep barges southbound with corn and soybeans for export. We may have déjà vu all over again.
The Lower Mississippi is being dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers in several places, and the Corps officials managing the Missouri River say they will likely not be able to help with extra water.
Farmgateblog.com reported to you a week ago about low water levels on the Mississippi and the threat to barges. Despite some significant rains in the upper Midwest, conditions have not improved. And the critical issues faced at the end of 2012 and the early part of 2013 seem to be resurfacing, which does not bode well for barge traffic and widens the grain basis. Farmers will be less able to absorb that impact with 2013 prices than they were with 2012 prices.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the Lower Mississippi from its Memphis office reports either shallow or critically shallow depths at barge points over 269 miles from Hickman, KY to Phillips County, AR. Those harbors were all dredged late last year and most report a depth of 10 to 18 feet. Barges generally need a 9 foot draft for normal operations.
The Phillips County, AR harbor reports a depth of less than 6 feet. And over the next month the prospects look grim due to continually declining water levels.
Corps officials report dredges in two locations with riverbank work at another location. Funding for harbor and channel dredging exists, but all of the available funds have been allocated and new funding for FY 2014 is pending Congressional approval. (When and if Congress returns to work.)
Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers managing the Missouri River have retained their general policy of water conservation that occurred last year. Due to drought conditions in the Missouri watershed, the Corps is retaining water in large upstream reservoirs and is curtailing flow release rates that reduce the level of water in the Missouri. The Missouri is a major tributary to the Mississippi just above St. Louis where barge drafts were restricted last winter to light loads that are more expensive.
The same policy is being implemented for the winter season of 2013 and 2014. The policy is based on the amount of water runoff into the Missouri and its tributaries, which are running about 90 percent of normal. Officials say the large reservoirs that are integral to the Missouri watershed are 4 to 10 feet below their desired level.