Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Small towns watch as lower Mississippi's heavy traffic is slowed by near-historic low water levels

A year after near-historic flooding affected some of America's legendary small towns, water levels on the lower Mississippi River are at near-historic lows. In July, water levels in Vicksburg, Miss., Memphis, Tenn., and Cairo, Ill. (at the confluence with the Ohio), dipped below those of the historic drought of 1988. That’s affecting everything from recreation to commerce on the maritime superhighway to rthe drinking water in Louisiana. The biggest impact, reports NBC News, may be on shipping. “It’s getting near critical,” said Austin Golding, a third-generation co-owner of Vicksburg-based Golding Barge Lines. “Without more rain, we’re heading into uncharted territory.” (Associated Press photo, near Vicksburg Aug. 6)

Barges on the lower river carry about $180 billion worth of goods and 500 million tons of the basic ingredients for much of the U.S. economy, according to the American Waterways Operators, a trade group. The river carries 60 percent of the nation’s grain, 22 percent of the oil and gas and 20 percent of the coal, according to the trade organization. The low water levels force barge companies to lighten their load by about 25 percent so barges ride higher in the water. In some places, the Mississippi is a one-way river, as barges heading north have to wait for traffic headed south, adding to the costly delays. The result: Millions of dollars in higher shipping costs, ultimately paid by consumers. (Read more)

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