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A Low Mississippi River Means Slowed Shipping

Historically low water levels in portions of the Mississippi River are jeopardizing a vital shipping lane for oil, agriculture and building materials, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription).

What’s going on: “The low water, caused by a lack of rain in the Ohio River Valley and the Upper Mississippi, has halted commercial traffic and river boat cruises at numerous spots below Illinois.”

  • “Prices to ship goods have more than doubled in a matter of weeks. Barges are grounding on sandbars in unprecedented numbers, and many ports and docks no longer have water deep enough for commercial boats to safely reach them.”

Why it’s happening: The worst drought in decades is being compounded by a lack of seasonal storms in the Mississippi Valley this year. Such storms usually help fill the streams and creeks that feed into the Mississippi River, which winds through 10 states and runs for more than 2,300 miles.

  • Two recent closures along the river “led to long queues involving at one point 134 vessels and 2,081 barges, according to the Coast Guard.”

The fix? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting emergency dredging at certain locations along the river to deepen it for commercial traffic.

Why it’s important: The U.S. economy risks significant slowdown if the Mississippi watershed shuts down.

  • “Historically, shipping along the Mississippi River and its tributaries has been less expensive than other forms of transportation, but with fewer boats and barges able to transport goods, prices have skyrocketed.”
  • “Farmers and factories in the central U.S. are rushing to secure the shrinking number of spots or find alternate supply routes.”
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