The federal government last week shut down an 11-mile stretch of the Mississippi River south of Memphis to all barge and commercial traffic because of low water levels blamed on the drought. The closure immediately impacted grain and soybean shippers trying to move barges to export facilities on the Gulf of Mexico.
The Coast Guard reported about 100 barges and ships were affected, and said the area closed has been affected similarly since August 11, when a barge ran aground. Readings near Memphis show the river is at least 12 feet below normal August levels, and the impact of the closure affects not only ag shippers, but other industries moving products south for export. Experts report a one-inch drop in river level means a vessel’s capacity is reduced by 17 tons of cargo. The Army Corps of Engineers has sent dredges to the area to deepen and widen the river, but without rain, the Corps expects the river level to continue to drop.