Missouri River decision could affect Tri-State area

A pending decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reduce the flow of the Missouri River at a dam in South Dakota could have far reaching effects across the Midwest.

If that decision comes to fruition it there could be a drop in the Mississippi River level south of St. Louis and that would have a ripple effect all the way to the Tri-State area.

As barges continue to lock through at the Lock & Dam 20 in Canton Missouri that is what barge operators and grain terminal owners want to continue to see. That and water continuing to flow along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. But the Corps of Engineers wants to reduce the flow of water at the Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota. They said the reason is to make sure dangerous ice formations don't build up along the Missouri River this winter. But that decision is having far reaching affects across the Midwest.

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Gerald Jenkins is the general manager of the Ursa Farmer's Cooperative in Ursa.

"We ordered barges heavily for this week. 15 barges this week and 15 barges next week. Because of the low water conditions and the concerns of that, logistically it has the river all bottlenecked up. The barges aren't coming north," Jenkins said.

Because the Missouri River empties into the Mississippi River near Alton, and because there aren't any dams south of Alton along the Mississippi River, barge operators are at the mercy of how much water flows out of the Missouri River. If there isn't enough water south of Alton, barge traffic between St. Louis and Cairo Illinois slows down and it could even come to a halt.

"So I sympathize with their concern and the different issues that they have. But this, the Corps responsibility is to make sure that, that river is operational and can be used for industry and for the services it brings. They're challenged right now to see that to do to keep it open," Jenkins said.

Jenkins also said the Ursa Farmer's Coop needs as many barges as they can get for the next month. They know as winter fast approaches they could see the river freeze up and that means no more barges until the spring. But they hope as many barges can make it and that they can have more room in their elevators to store more grain that is brought to them over the next several weeks.

Jenkins said according to experts he talks too, about 70 percent of the water that goes into the Mississippi River near Alton St. Louis comes from the Missouri River.

He added that the flow from the upper Mississippi River is regulated by locks and dams and that's why more water isn't released to the lower Mississippi.