Sometime this winter, Mississippi River shipping lanes could very well shut down.
It's just one more dire consequence that can be blamed on the 2012 drought, which many long-range forecasters expect to carry well into next spring. According to Illinois Corn Growers Association executive director Rodney Weinzierl, the latest frustration deals with removing rock pinnacles from navigation lanes near Cape Girardeau, Mo.
"The plan is, either this January or February, to start blasting out those rock pinnacles, which have become a navigation problem due to record low water levels," Weinzierl explains.
Regardless of when the Army Corps of Engineers begins, the project will take approximately 60 days. During this time, barge traffic will be slowed as the Corps works in 12-hour daytime periods. Traffic will be restored during the night, Weinzierl explains.
Once the rocks are removed, it will add another two feet of navigable draft space. According to Weinzierl, draft is how boat captains determine if there's enough depth for the ship. South of St. Louis, 10- to 12-foot drafts are common. On the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois River, 9-foot drafts are standard.
In early December, the draft space on the Illinois River had been reduced to 8 feet. Commercial tug boats need a 7 ½-foot draft. Weinzierl expects commercial traffic to become arduous north of Alton very soon.
"We expect grain movement to stop soon," he adds.
And the hits keep coming. Many of the river transport companies have modified contracts so they're able to charge grain elevators a storage fee if grain must sit on a barge.
Call to action
In the near term, a number of ag organizations, including the American Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers Association, American Soybean Association and The Fertilizer Institute, have penned a letter to President Barack Obama asking for assistance in two matters regarding river transportation.