Eleven barge tows on Wednesday were awaiting the opening of a pilot channel on the Mississippi River near Clinton, as a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers barge crew removed high levels of silt.
Ron Fournier, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Rock Island, Ill., said high levels of silt prevented seven barge tows from traveling north up the river and four tows from moving down the river.
“When the river starts getting to its lowest level, we start seeing shoaling where sedimentation builds up near islands,” Fournier explained. “We’ve had a barge crew dredging 24/7 for the last couple of days.
“Once they have a pilot channel dredged, the tows will be able to pass through the area. Then they will begin work cleaning up the area.”
Fournier said the situation is not unusual for this time of year.
“Every single year in recorded history, August is the low water time frame,” Fournier said. “We get less rain in the summer, the water evaporates and there’s not much storming going on.
“Last year was much worse because we experienced the drought.”
Fournier said the lock and dam system on the Mississippi helps maintain the nine-foot minimum channel for barges and other traffic on the river. The river bottom of the Mississippi is dynamic, always changing so that barge companies and pilots police themselves until mandatory restrictions are in place.
The drought of 2012 humbled the Mississippi with very low water levels exposing shoals and putting shipping at risk. Some barge companies lightened their loads to reduce the risk of getting stuck on the river bottom.
The lighter loads allow the tows to keep moving, but they limit profits for barge companies as the same amount of diesel fuel is required to move less freight.