MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Mississippi River levels continue to fall. The U.S. Coast Guard has shut down an 11-mile stretch of the river near Greenville, MS, an area that has reported several boats running aground since early August.
Nearly 100 boats and barges are stranded and are waiting to pass through when the channel reopens. The Army Corps of Engineers is busy trying to keep the river open in Memphis.
The Dredge Hurley is a 350 foot long dredge boat. It is five stories high and can hold more than 50 people. Crew members on the Dredge Hurley say it’s their job to make the river channel deeper. Some parts of the Mississippi River in the Mid-South are only 9 feet deep, borderline unsafe for large barges with a lot of draft. Engineers guide a 35 foot hydraulic suction dustpan, equipped with pressure water jets, across the river floor in shallow areas. The jets loosen the sediment and the dustpan captures it. The sediment travels through an 800 foot pipeline and is discharged into open water.
Dredging is crucial in keeping the money flowing in the Mid-South. Already, the industry is light-loading barges and carrying smaller tows.
Rene Poche, Army Corps of Engineers from New Orleans, says, “It is vital that the river stays in a position where boats can navigate.”
River navigation impacts all Mid-Southerners. Crops and other goods travel up and down the river and if you can’t get your goods, prices may be affected. It’s a bad combination at the wrong time. Drought conditions in the Mid-South have hit the corn crop hard. Slow travel along the river could add to the problem and boost the cost.
The lower Mississippi River is dealing with a different set of problems. Normal river flow helps to keep saltwater at bay in New Orleans. This year, less flow means more saltwater trying to creep up the river. It’s a concern for engineers who fear saltwater is getting close to municipal water intakes. An underwater levee is being built to trap salt on the river floor.
The Mississippi River in Memphis is forecast to slowly fall into the weekend. River levels are near record lows originally set back in the late 1980’s.