Completion of rock removal allows normal navigation on Mississippi

01 March 2013 21:49  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)— Two months after it began, the rock removal work by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on the Mississippi river has been completed allowing for the return of normal navigation of the vital shipping artery.

Since the end of 2012, barges, which carry billions of dollars worth of essential cargo such as fertilizer, grain and coal, have been dealing with historically lower river levels following the unprecedented drought that plagued the US last spring and summer.

In order to ease the situation and permit typical traffic, crews with USACE had been blasting and excavating pinnacle underwater rock formations from stretches of the river. According to the federal agency, approximately 1,000 cubic yards of rock have been removed from the nation’s busiest waterway and future shipping activities should not be hindered.

“A tremendous amount of effort now and in the years leading up to this drought has gone into keeping the river open,” said Colonel Chris Hall, USACE St. Louis District commander. “The end results have been permanent improvements to the navigation channel.”

While there were temporary closures to accommodate the rock removal effort, the Mississippi river was never closed, but the situation put a tremendous burden on barge operators as it forced them to decrease the size of their loads and lengthen their time of travel. The typical 19 to 21 day voyage from New Orleans to the upper portions of the river had increased by as much as 10 days.

Additionally, the lessening of the draft capacity due to the ever shrinking waters, at times by as much as two feet, resulted in significantly smaller loads. Barge sources have said each inch of draft that was taken away equaled 30,000 pounds fewer that could be loaded.

Yet there is still a need for guarded optimism as the USACE has said that the problem could arise once again if there is a return pattern of drought conditions.

That sentiment was echoed this week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who said in their 2013 outlook forecast that for the Mississippi to avoid a repeat of low water levels that the river and surrounding region would need to have greater-than-normal rainfall amounts. NOAA officials estimated there is a 40% chance that water levels will recede enough to impede normal navigation in the later part of this year.

By: Mark Milam
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