Shippers and lawmakers are pressuring US President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency along the Mississippi River, citing potential “catastrophic consequences” in the Midwest if barge traffic is curtailed by low water on the nation’s busiest waterway.
Lawmakers urged Obama to tell the US Army Corps of Engineers to hasten the planned removal of submerged rocks near Cairo, Illinois, that may impede barge traffic at low water levels. The corps should also stop its seasonal restriction on the flow of Missouri River water into the Mississippi, which it began last week, the groups said.
Mississippi River barge traffic is slowing as the worst drought in five decades combines with a seasonal dry period to push water levels to a near-record low, prompting shippers to seek alternatives.
Computer models suggest that without more rain, navigating the Mississippi will start to be affected on Dec. 11 and the river will reach a record low on Dec. 22, corps spokesman Bob Anderson said.
Barges on the Mississippi handle about 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports entering the Gulf of Mexico through New Orleans, as well as 22 percent of its petroleum and 20 percent of its coal. About US$7 billion worth of commodities usually travel on the Mississippi in December and January, including US$2.3 billion of agricultural products and US$1.8 billion of chemical goods, according to the American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council Inc.
An emergency declaration would help by directing the corps to release more water and remove rock formations without following federal contracting practices that may delay action, Harkin said.