Low water slows barge traffic

Water levels on the Mississippi River are well below normal due to the widespread drought.

Barges on the Mississippi River transfer everything from crops to construction material, but the drought has made barge transportation much more difficult this year.

Water levels on the Mississippi River are well below normal due to the widespread drought.

Low water causes problems for pilots and costs more money for the many businesses who choose to ship using barges.

When water is low the current is not as strong.

A weak current does not wash away sand and silt from the riverbed.

"It's only when the water slows down that you get this siltation and sedimentation," Mike Heschler explained. Heschler is a pilot with Canton Marine Towing.

The Army Corp of Engineers is using this equipment to remove sand and silt from the river bed.If buildups get too large they disrupt barge traffic.

"This is probably extreme low," Heschler said. Transporting products on the river using barges is a fraction of the cost of other means of transportation, and uses far less fuel.

Barge traffic has seen delays this year due to low river levels from the drought. Heschler says that to avoid grounding, which could set barges back for days, the barges are filled less full.

"Those lighter loadings cost the company money, cost the towing company money, cost the shippers money," Heschler explained

This year those expenses could add up. The drought has made it difficult for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to keep a navigable channel. Normally they would try to keep a twelve foot channel for barge traffic.

"Normally we don't see this kind of low levels for this length of time," Heschler explained.

Barge pilots must rely on depth finders and experience navigating the river to avoid shallow water that could ground them.

Early to mid-August is usually a slow time for barge traffic, but even this fall when traffic usually picks up, business may be slow.

The drought has also severely damaged crops that would have been transported by barge.