Drought Shrinks Mississippi River Traffic
The level of the Mississippi River has gotten so low that cargo ships and barges have had to severely restrict the weight of what they can safely carry.
If the country’s largest river system continues to rapidly shrink, all river traffic could get shut down and cost the US $300 million a day. The Mississippi, which has become thin and narrow, is used for cargo vessels to transport goods. In the US, 60 percent of grain, 22 percent of oil and natural gas and 20 percent of coal travels down the river. But its reduced size and now-shallow waters are forcing barges to either stop running or reduce the weight of the goods they carry – leading to longer waits for those products in grocery stores. Some areas of the river have dropped 20 feet below normal – and the drop is expected to continue. “A lot of those barges have had to lighten their loads, and even doing that, they are still running aground. There is a real fear that there could be a possibility of closing the Mississippi River,” said CNN correspondent Martin Savidge. “If that happens, well, all that product that used to be carried cheaply by barge is now going to be carried more expensively by truck or train. And guess who is going to pay for all that.”Another result of the continuing low levels is that saltwater is now intruding far up from the Gulf, damaging ecosystems unused to brackish water. And millions of fish are dying because the shallow water now gets too hot.