Thanks to increased water levels, the U.S. Coast Guard lifted draft restrictions on barges in the area where rock pinnicals are being blasted at Thebes.
Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty said barge operators no longer are required to limit their tows to a 9-foot draft, although it is recommended they do so.
"This will ensure the river industry is allowed to maximize the recent in-flow of water into the river from the recent storms," Fogarty said.
"This will allow some flexibility for towing vessels with greater drafts to transit the area. I would assume that barges that will likely transit the area in the next few days are already loaded to 9 feet or less so it shouldn't affect them. However, this does not change the long term strategy of the Coast Guard or Army Corps of Engineers."
According to the American Waterways Operators organization, most barge tows require at least nine feet of water to operate although some can navigate in eight feet of water. The low river level has forced shippers to put lighter loads on their barges, making goods more expensive to ship.
Fogarty said he expects the rise in the river level to be temporary and said shippers should be prepared for restrictions to return.
"Any rain fall, unless it is consistent, strong (and) long termed, will be palliative at best," Fogarty said. "The USCG will continue to monitor river conditions and the forecast to ensure commerce can continue on the river in a safe and efficient manner."
More than four feet below normal earlier this week, the river is currently 2.52 feet below normal thanks to recent rain and upstream snow melt. The National Weather Service now predicts the river will continue to rise until Jan. 14 when it reaches 1.4 feet below normal. But without additional rain it is expected that the Mississippi will return to about four feet below normal around Jan. 24.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, work to remove rock pinnacles at Thebes, which is about 125 miles south of St. Louis, should be done by the end of the month. After that, according to Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Petersen, water in the channel should remain at least nine feet deep even if the river reaches its all-time low of 6.2 feet below normal in St. Louis set in 1940.