Mississippi river reopened to commerce after flood

07 June 2013 22:14  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Improving conditions on the Mississippi river on Friday have allowed the reopening of commercial traffic in both directions and the St. Louis port under the direction of the US Coast Guard (USCG) and US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

Speaking at a press briefing Friday afternoon, both agencies said the waters have receded enough to allow navigation of vessels and barges carrying essential cargoes. Officials said if the weather forecast proves correct, with a lessening of rain in the region, that the vital waterway should continue to drop and avoid further flooding or damage to the levee system.

With the water levels at approximately 38 feet the agencies decided that the conditions were allowable for safe passage and opened the St. Louis port to commercial traffic on Friday morning.

“The good news is the rivers are falling throughout the basins,” said Dave Busse, USACE chief of engineering and construction. “If we don’t get any more (rain) we should be in good shape.”

Busse said the agency still has flood response teams in the area and are keeping watch on the water levels and the levee system, which saw two breaks within the St. Louis area this past week but considering the intensity of the once rising waters it was not unexpected.

He said as of Friday afternoon that river locks 24 and 27 were now opened with lock 25 expected to be opened sometime on Saturday, but it could be at least a week before the river is low enough to open the remaining locks.

“On the levee conditions there have been a few overtopped at the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers but these were low level levees that were expected to top,” Busse said. “Our flood-fighting teams are in place and ready, and we will remain diligent through the weekend.”

USCG Chief Ryan Christensen said the agency made a test run of towing operations on Thursday night and deemed the river conditions safe enough to permit normal navigation.

Officials had said that since the closure the number of vessels waiting had reached an official estimate of eight ships and 63 barges but that the actual number is likely higher as operators were aware of the river conditions and moored their vessels at other locations along the Mississippi.

Asked if the current high water levels - the second flood of the year for the Mississippi - were setting the river on a path for flooding later in the year as experienced during the flooding episode of 1993, Busse said that was an issue everyone involved with the waterway has been pondering this week. He said looking at the long-term forecast, he was remaining optimistic that another rise in the water levels in late summer would not materialise.

“It is the question of the week. I will tell you that you always worry about the river being high and laying the ground work for it to happen,” Busse said.

He also stressed that the agency has worked diligently in shoring up its protection projects including gates and levees but that no system is perfect under such unpredictable conditions that can develop when there is a sudden and increased influx of water depths.

With the current levels in the upper 30s-low 40s depending on where the levee is located on the river, Busse said the USACE is confident the protection system could hold for a time up to a 54 foot level if necessary.

“Our major urban protection projects are in good shape but there are no perfect levees but we have made some major improvements. I have no concerns other than that there are no perfect levees at 40 feet,” Busse.



By: Mark Milam
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