Despite challenging conditions because of low water, representatives from the U.S. Coast Guard say their emergency plans have kept barge traffic moving on the Mississippi River.
A total of 490 barge tows have made it down the Mississippi, even with it closed at Thebes 16 hours a day for the last 24 days. Workers are closing the river at Thebes, 125 miles south of St. Louis, while they remove rock pinnacles from the bottom of the channel.
Coast Guard commander Rob McClellan credited the efficient movement of 22,500 tons worth of goods on the agency's Vessel Traffic Management System.
"These numbers not only display the effectiveness of the VTMS but speak to the true value of collaboration between industry, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Coast Guard," McClellan said. "Low water is a long-term problem that requires long term solutions. Our efforts in the Thebes display our ability to work together and to keep the Mississippi River open despite historic low water conditions."
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service reports there has been some relief on the river in recent days.
The Mississippi reached a low of 4.52 feet below normal on Jan. 1. But it has since risen about a foot, to 3.55 feet below normal.
The relief is expected to be temporary, however. National Weather Service projections expect it to reach 5 feet below normal within a week and 5.5 feet below normal by mid-January.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Petersen said recent rain and snow provided the temporary relief. But he said the amounts the area has received won't reverse drought conditions that extend back to the summer. He said ice is starting to choke the water flow in the upper Mississippi, further worsening the extremely low water levels.
The all-time record for low water on the Mississippi River at St. Louis is 6.2 feet below normal, set in 1940.
According to the Coast Guard, up to 20 towboats with a total of 400 barges get backed up at Thebes while the area is closed for the rock pinnacle removal. That work is expected to be completed in about a week.
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at email@example.com or call 239-2626.