River Woes Worsen Upstream

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(Memphis) The Mississippi River looks a lot different in Memphis now, than it did in the summer drought.

But upriver, North of Cairo, the river is as low as it has ever been.

Around Thebes, Illinois the Corps of Engineers has begun tearing up rocks along the shore to create more space for barges.

Tow operators say a forecast of lower water between St. Louis and Cairo, could bring a stop to traffic.

Even the best case will mean more trips, on fewer and lighter barges.

”It’s going to slow down the transit times and it’s gonna be requiring additional equipment to try to shuttle through the same amount of tonnage” said Kevin Conway of Southern Towing.

And that means extra cost.

The Army Corps of Engineers has said it will release water from Southern Illinois Lakes in dire circumstances, but the effect would only be temporary.

Meantime, freezing weather has made a bad situation, worse.

”What the colder weather does is, it literally freezes up the precipitation that would normally melt off and support flows and commerce on the Mississippi” said Mike Petersen with the Corps.

Tow companies say the problem could soon cost all of us where it hurts the most.

”We’ve got restrictions on gasoline products and crude oil moving South out of the oil fields. That’s being restricted, the refined gasoline products going North to supply the cities with gasoline is being restricted,” said Conway.

And he says we’ll pay the extra cost for moving that increasingly scarce fuel.

Resource managers insist their hands are tied, and there’s not much to be done.

”A rain dance, but that’s not gonna get either of us much of anything” Petersen explained.

True enough. It’ll take lots of extended rain upriver to make this problem go away.

Tow companies say they’re taking the situation day by day and doing whatever they can to survive a perfect storm of disaster that’s drying up their main highway of commerce.