Mississippi high water problems continue

By early August trouble spots persisted on parts of the Lower Mississippi River with some gauges registering over flood levels but still below the records of the Great Flood of 2011 or earlier high water marks.  

“The worst is about over,” said Marty Hettel, senior manager of waterway regulatory programs for AEP River Operations, which has a fleet of 2,269 barges. “The Illinois River had some extremely high water.”

Flooding closed parts of the Illinois in late June and again in July. By late July, the Coast Guard had lifted traffic restrictions.

Water conditions on the Upper Mississippi forced the American Queen to shift its itinerary through early August. Instead of cruising between St. Louis and St. Paul, Minn., the riverboat sailed the Ohio River with Cincinnati as the turnaround port, American Queen Steamboat Co. said.

Officials were waiting for lower river levels to salvage the 61’×24′, 1,000-hp towboat Charlie Boy which sank July 19 in the Mississippi at mile marker 173 south of St. Louis. Two crewmembers were rescued by another towboat and a third was still missing.

The boat sank while moving barges in the fleeting area, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Sean Haley. The accident was still under investigation, but he said it was “highly likely” the high water was a contributing factor.

Rick Calhoun, president of Cargill Inc.’s Cargo Carriers, which operates 1,300 barges, said the high water “has delayed our ability to get goods to the Gulf,” and since the grain can’t move out, farmers can’t deliver more to already full elevators.

Longer term, he was concerned that if the June and July grain isn’t shipped until August there might not be enough barges available up north for the harvest. “The fleet would be somewhat out of place for normal movements,” he said.

On the upper Mississippi, southbound tows over 600′ (excluding towboat) were restricted to daylight hours, the Coast Guard said. Each loaded barge required a minimum of 250 hp, and northbound tows had to have enough horsepower to maintain a 3-mph minimum approaching the St. Louis Harbor Bridge.

On the Lower Mississippi, the Coast Guard issued an extreme high water safety advisory from mile 869 to mile 303 “due to hazardous conditions associated with strong currents, severe outdrafts, missing/off station aids to navigation and diving buoys.” Depending on readings at gauges from Memphis, Tenn., south, downbound vessels had to have at least 280 hp per barge with a maximum of 36 barges, and vessels with less than 6,000 hp were restricted to 20 barges.

 “If there’s an advantage to high water, we can load our barges to maximum capability,” AEP’s Hettel said. “I’ll take high water over low water any day.” — D.K. DuPont


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