Mississippi River Low Water: Out of the Woods?
Waterways Council Release
18 January 2013
River transportation continues to garner headlines ever since the
2012-2013 drought began endangering barge movements.
The Corps of Engineers completed the removal of 365 cubic yards of
limestone in the river on Saturday, January 12. The work,
combined with heavy rains during that weekend, raised the
Mississippi about six feet higher than from its levels at Thebes
just two weeks earlier.
The welcomed rain helped replenish the near-record low channel,
keeping everyone’s eyes on river gages, and moving contractors off
the job of rock removal to allow the river to recede. The
National Weather Service forecast on January 17 indicates the
Mississippi at Thebes will quickly fall back after January 28 or
29. Lower levels will allow more efficient removal of the
remainder of the rock pinnacles in play.
That same NWS forecast shows river levels at St. Louis falling
dramatically over the next two weeks:
- 3.0 ft. by 01/20/2013
- 4.0 ft. by 01/23/2013
- 5.0 ft. by 01/27/2013
The original plan to begin rock removal at Thebes and Grand Tower,
IL in February was sped up in large part to WCI and its member
companies, associations, and unions urging Governors, Congress,
and President Obama to allow the Corps to contract the work out
sooner than originally planned.
The rock pinnacle removal is in two phases, with the first
(clearing pinnacle rocks within the channel) on schedule to end by
the end of January. The contract for the second phase should
be awarded by the end of this month and will focus on widening the
channel for better traffic flow.
The Corps indicates that enough rock pinnacles were removed to
ensure a 9-foot channel (and 300-foot width) down to a 0-foot
stage at Thebes. As of the afternoon of January 17, the
river level at Thebes was 12.55 feet.
The historic low at St. Louis (since the Missouri River Reservoirs
have been fully operational) occurred in December, 1989 with a
stage of -5.32 feet. The current drought has caused levels
to fall as much as -4.39 (a daily average, not an instantaneous
reading) at St. Louis (on January 1, 2013).
The Corps also supplemented the middle Mississippi by releasing
water from Carlyle Lake in Illinois. The releases from
Carlyle flow into the Kaskaskia River, which enters the
Mississippi River between St. Louis and Cape Girardeau, near
Chester, IL. This work came as a result of WCI urging the
Corps to look at all possible options to replenish dropping river
levels back in November 2012.
Meanwhile, for the Upper, two lock closures will sever
connectivity along the Upper: Lock 6 closed for dewatering
on December 3, 2012, with winter maintenance taking place until
The main chamber of Lock 27 closed December 10, 2012 for repairs
to the damaged cell on the downstream side. Lock 27 is
slated to reopen March 1.