MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Brace yourself the next time you go to the grocery store or fill up your car with your gas, because prices may soon sky rocket as early as next month and the Mississippi River is to blame. The river is facing record lows in an area between Memphis and St. Louis.
The Mississippi River in Memphis is nearly 20 feet higher than it was this summer but it's a different story between here and St. Louis. Cargo loads have been cut in half to make sure barges don't hit the bottom. Not only is it taking longer to receive or send cargo up and down the river, but it's also costing you more money.
Nearly 200 barges travel the Mississippi River in Memphis every day. One barge can carry tons of products. That's the equivalent of about what 300 trucks can carry - things like petroleum, coal, wheat, and corn. But when river levels are low, it's hard to move that much stuff anywhere.
"It's taking twice as much labor. The big tow boats aren't able to push up there so you need smaller boats and with the smaller boats you move less cargo and it's costing twice as much to move it,” said Captain William Lozir, owner and operator of the Memphis Riverboat Company.
Captain Lozir is nervous about the low river levels near Saint Louis and says the average Joe should worry too.
"You'll see higher fuel prices. You'll see higher prices in some of the bulk commodities,” said Lozir.
He's talking about your grocery bill. Almost everything you eat contains some kind of corn like cereals, baby food, aspirin, and even whiskey. The corn is transported on the Mississippi River. In Memphis, the river levels are fine but it's getting shipments from up north that's the problem.
"I don't think anyone thinks about the river levels until it affects your grocery bill,” said Chris Neloms of Alabama, who was walking down the Memphis riverfront. "If it's going to affect groceries then yeah, it's going to hurt me. I'm paying enough for pork chops already!”
People are already thinking about stocking up on groceries before prices go up.
"I don't have storage for it but it is something to consider, you better be prepared,” said Linda Campbell of Virginia. She was also visiting Memphis and was walking along Tom Lee Park. "There are a lot of things we take for granted. The prices are just going to go up and up and up."
If barges stop moving completely the impact on shipments could reach into the billions of dollars.