Mississippi river rises, keeps officials and operators concerned

30 May 2013 23:53  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Persistent rains this past month combined with new showers are forecasted through the weekend. Officials, farmers and barge operators were cautiously watching on Thursday as the Mississippi river rose to flood stages at several locations on the upper portion of the vital waterway.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) said late Thursday that at least three river locks have been closed, with the possibility of four additional ones being closed by early next week if the weather forecast of four to six more inches of rainfall were to occur. The disruption of the river puts pressure on barge operators who carry valuable and essential cargo such as grain and fertilizer.

 “We're already in flood stage throughout most of our district. Any numbers in red on the river forecast denote flood stage. We haven't shut any of our locks yet, but will likely have to close Locks and Dam 24 in Clarksville tomorrow,” said Mike Petersen, USACE Chief of Public Affairs, St. Louis district.

“Some locks upstream of us in Rock Island district have closed already, as well as the Louisiana RR bridge, so there's nothing moving upstream of LD24 as of yesterday. We have also contacted effected levee districts in advance of flooding to make sure we have the supplies and people available to support local flood fight efforts.”

According to the USACE, nine levees were damaged in the last flooding incident back in April and those areas have yet to be repaired.

Farmers in the area have just recently completed plantings of corn and soybeans and are beginning rounds of crop nutrient applications. Now they are left wondering when they will be able to complete those tasks, which are already several weeks behind. More concerning is the possibility that fields will be inundated from the Mississippi.

A barge source said that any activity north of St. Louis has been impacted and that if the rain continues, it could extend the problems faced by those working on the river.

The National Weather Service said it expects the Mississippi to crest by Monday morning at nearly 35.5 feet and has warned residents that the flooding could match, or even exceed, the high waters experienced in the 1995 floods which devastated the region.  The agency said while over the years more of the homes have been moved away from the vulnerable parts of the river, what is left is thousands of acres of the country’s most pristine farmland.

This comes just months after historically low water levels, due to the drought conditions of 2012, left barge commerce, essential to the national economy, at almost a standstill at one point. The sudden double spring refill of the Mississippi was not expected by many, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In its 2013 outlook released in March, the agency said that it was likely that without greater-than-normal rainfall amounts the river could see decreased levels once again. NOAA officials had estimated there was a 40% chance that water levels could recede enough to impede normal navigation in the later part of 2013.

By: Mark Milam
+1 713 525 2653

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