Drought Threatens Mississippi River Navigation

Grain shippers and barge industry are warning that traffic on Mississippi River may grind to a halt in December due to drought.

Published on: Nov 20, 2012

Water levels in the Mississippi River remain low due to the 2012 drought, and navigation could soon suffer as a result. The National Waterways Conference, of which the Iowa Corn Growers Association is a member, last week, addressed the situation in a joint letter with the Waterways Council, Inc. and the American Waterways Operators organization. The three groups sent their letter to officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency which regulates the dams and water levels on the river. Of course, Mother Nature, with the 2012 drought, is doing most of the lowering of the water levels these days.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to gradually reduce the flow of water out of its big Gavin's Point Dam in South Dakota on the upper Missouri River, a move aimed at preserving water levels in the drought stricken reservoir system on the upper Missouri River. Less water flowing from the Missouri River into the Mississippi River at St. Louis will lead to navigation problems on the lower Mississippi River south of St. Louis, barge operators say. The effect on the Mississippi River further north, such as barge shipping Davenport, Iowa, will likely be minimal, says Jim Stiman, chief of water control for the Rock Island district for the Corps of Engineers. The river is mostly shut down over the winter months anyway, because of ice, he points out.

LOW WATER: Shipping interests are warning that barge traffic on the Mississippi River may have to stop moving this winter because of  a combination of slower Missouri River inflows and obstructions. Water levels are low because of 2012 drought.
LOW WATER: Shipping interests are warning that barge traffic on the Mississippi River may have to stop moving this winter because of a combination of slower Missouri River inflows and obstructions. Water levels are low because of 2012 drought.

Iowa Corn Growers Association sent letter of concern to Army Corps of Engineers

In the letter, the group's requested that the Mississippi River Control Management Board consider any options to maintain a 9 foot navigation channel in the Mississippi River. The letter encourages the Corps to use Missouri River reservoirs to benefit navigation on the downstream areas of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The letter proposes sustaining navigation by managing Missouri River water flows as well as dredging and removing rocks from the Mississippi River to keep a 9-foot channel. The letter also requests that Mississippi River navigation stakeholders be included in the decision-making process.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

Click here to view the full letter. ICGA supports the arguments presented, says Mindy Larsen Poldberg, director of government relations for the corn grower association. ICGA policy states, "Flood control, transportation and industrial economic activity should be the priorities for river management. Recreational uses should be allowed but not be prioritized." The transportation of agriculture and corn products will be greatly impacted if commerce on the Mississippi River system is shut down, she emphasizes.

Iowa's two U.S. Senators press for action to keep navigation flowing on Mississippi River

On Friday, November 16 Iowa's two U.S. Senators—Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Tom Harkin—joined other senators from states along the Mississippi River to urge the Army Corps of Engineers to remove impediments to navigation on the river, as well as ensure water flow from the Missouri River is not reduced so much that it impedes Mississippi River navigation.

Grassley and Harkin, along with Sens. Roy Blunt, Dick Durbin, Mary Landrieu, Lamar Alexander, Amy Klobuchar, David Vitter, Claire McCaskill, Mark Kirk, Mark Pryor, Roger Wicker, Al Franken, Thad Cochran and John Boozman requested the action from the Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to keep commerce flowing on the Mississippi River.

"The drought resulted in low water levels that have created challenging shipping conditions in some spots along the river for grain and other exports," Grassley said.  "The action we're requesting is not unprecedented, and could have a major and positive impact on the economy of states up and down the river." Click here for a signed copy of the letter. 

U.S. House Committee approves Russia PNTR Bill, which corn growers support

In other news reported by the Iowa Corn Growers Association last week, the U.S. House Rules Committee passed legislation on November 13 that provides for Permanent Normal Trade Relations, or PNTR, with Russia. Russia joined the World Trade Organization, or WTO, in August 2012, and Congress must repeal the Jackson-Vanick amendment before the United States can take advantage of Russia's commitments as a WTO member. Iowa Corn Growers Association policy supports passage of the PNTR with Russia as it would give American farmers the opportunity to compete in the Russian economy and the ability to reach 140 million Russian consumers.

This bill combines the Jackson-Vanick repeal legislation passed by the House Ways and Means Committee in July, along with legislation relating to human rights passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June. The bill will likely be voted on by the full House sometime soon.