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High river water slows US commodity shipments

February 7, 2020   Argus Media

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Argus Media – Washington, DC – 2/7/20 – Abby Caplan


Unseasonably high water on the Mississippi river system is delaying some barge deliveries of fertilizer, coal, crude and metals, while sparking concerns about a rerun of 2019 shipping problems.


The high water and swiftly moving flows of the river are difficult to navigate, causing river operators to slow down and to haul fewer barges at a time. As a result, it takes longer to deliver commodities.


The "historic" high water conditions were created by a combination of ice dams and historic high flows, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul, Minnesota. The river flows are at levels normally observed in late spring.


"We have never in our record had these sustained high flows over the month of January," the corps said. Uneven temperatures stopped ice from forming in a stable manner, worsening the creation of ice dams that have blocked the normal flow of water along the Mississippi. The corps is closely monitoring river conditions in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa because of an increased chance of flooding because of ice dams.


The corps also is monitoring river conditions on other parts of the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois and Arkansas rivers.


In New Orleans, Louisiana, high water is affecting vessel loading and unloading. The Carrollton gauge, which tracks river levels in the New Orleans area of the Mississippi river, has been rising. Local vessel pilot associations have started to implement restrictions on the equipment and hours of operation for moving, loading and unloading vessels.


Elsewhere, water levels have already neared or exceeded flood stage at a few points.


The Illinois river is above flood stage in Beardstown, Illinois. The river at 6am ET today measured 16.3 feet, topping the 14-foot flood stage. The corps has not yet determined when the waterway will crest.


In Cairo, Illinois, where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers join, water levels are likely to exceed the 40-foot flood stage by 8 February, the corps said. The river will not likely crest until it hits about 40.5 feet on 16 February.


On the lower Mississippi river at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the river was at 29.4 feet at 6am ET today, under the 32-foot flood stage, but is expected to keep rising through the weekend.


Last year, high water plagued the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois and Arkansas rivers for months, delaying deliveries of key commodities. Operators were forced to cut back on how much they hauled. And some docks and terminals were unable to load and unload goods because water topped equipment.


Water levels were so high on the Arkansas river that barge traffic was completely stopped for months. Required dredging further delayed shipments that have only now started to recover.