MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The Mississippi River continues to drop and river levels are threatening to reach record lows. The river gauge at Memphis is 12 feet lower than average and it’s dropped more than two feet in the last month. River forecasters expect river levels to drop another three feet over the next month, potentially setting a new record low.
Rivers in 31 states drain into the Mississippi River. Up to two inches of rain could raise river levels by a foot, but experts do not expect that to happen in the near-term. Concrete mats and sandbars that are normally covered with water are visible from the banks. The Memphis district Army Corps of Engineers are required by law to maintain a 9 foot deep by 300 foot wide channel for barges to pass through.
According to Army Corps engineer Steve Barry, "We’ve seen a few barges bump the bottom while transporting goods up and down the river. We've had some run aground and they had to close the river because the tows broke apart."
Harbors along the Mississippi River farther north are shut down, such as the Elvis Star harbor in Kentucky. All harbors near Memphis are currently open. The harbor at McKellar Lake has been dredged and engineers are working to dredge other parts of the river. Dredging is the process of removing dirt and deposits from the bottom of a channel so that a channel can hold more water. This allows for more draft from boats and barges.
Barry says if river levels drop to record lows, the water level in some spots could be as low as 9 feet and that would make it almost impossible for large barges to pass through.