Record amounts of rainfall in late June caused high water problems that eventually closed the Mississippi River at St. Paul, Minn., to navigation in July.

Patrick Moes, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers St. Paul District, said the problem was the amount of sediment the current dragged into the center of the 9-foot navigation channel between late June and the end of July. 

“The sediment that was dropped into the channel created sandbars,” said Moes, “but there’s been a big improvement since the closure a week ago (July 29).” 

Pool 6 near Winona, Minn., was scheduled to reopen on Aug. 6 and Pool 4, a channel between Wabasha, Minn., and Alma, Wis., was set to reopen on Aug. 8, according to Moes.

Moes said 152 barges and 17 towboats were sidelined by the closure. The barges carried mostly non-metal corn and salt.

“Some people are shrugging it off because it doesn’t affect them, but if you’re expecting fertilizer the first week of August and it doesn’t get there until the third week of August, that’s a problem for you,” said Sandor J. Toth, publisher, River Transport News, Silver Springs, Md. “The good news is that there is no corn crop up there now.”

The U.S. inland waterways system has suffered from a series of high and low water events over the past several years that have cost barge owners millions in lost revenue. Moes said he had no information about how much this high-water event has cost the industry. 

The channel in Pool 4 was first closed July 19 at River Mile 754 due to shallow conditions, and the channel in Pool 6 was closed July 23 after a grounding at Blacksmith Slough near river mile 719.2. Several other locations had depths less than 9' extending across the entire navigation channel in early August. 

At presstime, the Corps of Engineers had two government dredging operations, the dredge Goetz and a mechanical dredging crew, along with two contract mechanical dredging operations still working to remove material from the channel. 

The Corps also has two channel survey boats operating throughout the St. Paul District to monitor other areas within the river as well as supporting dredging operations. The survey results will be evaluated and prioritized based on dredging needs. 


Moes said the Corps is coordinating with navigation industry officials and the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure that everyone understands what is being done to reopen the channel as soon as possible. — Ken Hocke