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River navigation: dredging comes to the rescue again

October 23, 2023   Workboat

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As the grain shipping season this fall experienced a second consecutive year of low water levels that disrupted barge traffic on the inland system, the importance of river dredging again stepped into the spotlight.


Faced with deep-water declines on key navigational sections of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, the Army Corps of Engineers has capitalized on what it learned from last year’s historic drought, communicating frequently with industry, adjusting allowable barge loads on low rivers and being more proactive. The Corps started important dredging work earlier on shallow hot spots that need more frequent attention to keep commerce moving on the waterways.


Last year, 40 days of critically low water was responsible for numerous barge groundings and stalled traffic at the height of the harvest season, driving up costs and freight rates. This year, 61% of the Midwest was deemed abnormally dry or in a drought as of late August, and most of the Mississippi River basin faced low water levels because of heat and no rainfall well into October.


The drought again occurred during the important grain harvest. About 60% of the nation’s grain exports — mostly corn and soybeans — move down the Mississippi, which must have at least nine feet of water for vessels to pass.


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