News / USA

US Coast Guard Monitors Receding Mississippi River Levels

A lack of rain in the central part of the United States has created a crisis on the Mississippi River.  The most important inland U.S. waterway is reaching historic low levels, which could significantly disrupt shipping.  As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the U.S. Coast Guard, which plays a key role in determining whether the river stays open to traffic, is keeping one eye on the receding river, and another on the skies - hoping for rain.
 
Crewmembers on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Gasconade are struggling to keep traffic flowing on the Mississippi River.
 
As the water level beneath them continues to drop, the green and red buoys they deploy to mark the shallow spots are all that stand between successful navigation of the river and disaster.
 
“As it gets narrower, there’s less room to move around, and things like wind pushing on you and the shallow water coming up it makes it very difficult," said Ryan Christensen of the U.S. Coast Guard. 
 
So difficult in fact that some barge traffic winds up stuck amid rocks or sand bars if they venture outside a 100-meter-wide, 2.7-meter-deep channel.
 
The Coast Guard’s goal is to prevent that from happening, a job Chief Ryan Christensen admits is becoming more difficult as the Mississippi recedes.
 
"I think it’s pretty tough.  There’s a lot of places where two boats can pass and now it's one way traffic that they have to choose to go through there one boat at a time," he said. 
 
Barges that make their way up and down the Mississippi River carry more than $100 billion worth of goods every year.  Any disruption has significant consequences for the U.S. economy.
 
“We move crude oil out of here, anhydrous ammonia, coal, all the grain products, all the farm products.  So yeah, this is a pretty critical waterway," he said. 
 
That critical waterway is the lifeblood of Marty Hettel’s AEP River Operations.
 
“We transport about 70-million tons of commodities on the inland waterways, with our approximately 3,250 barges," he said. 
 
The place where Hettel is standing for this interview along the Mississippi River near St. Louis is usually submerged.  He says that level will drop even further unless more water upstream is released.
 
 “About 60 percent of the water you see behind us came off the Missouri River, so as the (Army) Corps (of Engineers) cuts back the flow from the Missouri River, of course our levels in St. Louis are going to fall out," he said. 
 
But releasing more of that flow off the Missouri River is a politically and environmentally sensitive decision.  Releasing more water upstream might be a quick fix to solve some problems downstream on the Mississippi, but it could impact future water levels throughout the system, particularly without a significant amount of precipitation in the coming weeks.
 
Hettel says the alternative could be just as bad. 
 
“It’s going to stop shipping between St. Louis and Cairo (Illinois) unless something is done to augment the supply of water.  The only possibility of doing that is to get some additional releases off the Missouri River," he said. 
 
In the meantime, the U.S. Coast Guard continues to plot a course ahead, showing barges how to make their way along the troubled river, all the while hoping for rain, or snow. 

Kane Farabaugh

Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs