‘There’s not even 10 feet of water in the middle of the river’: Mississippi River water at historic low levels

A barge moves north on the Mississippi River under the Interstate 40 bridge connecting...
A barge moves north on the Mississippi River under the Interstate 40 bridge connecting Tennessee and Arkansas. The unusually low water level in the lower Mississippi River is causing barges to get stuck in the muddy river bottom, resulting in delays.(Adrian Sainz | AP Photo/Adrian Sainz, File)
Published: Oct. 7, 2022 at 9:52 PM EDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Between appearances at the state fair Friday, Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson studied the latest water level reports from the Mississippi River, 44 miles away. He spoke to WLBT about the effect of counting on a transportation channel that, right now, is historically shallow.

“It’s extremely low, and this is a really terrible time for this to be happening,” Gipson told WLBT. After nearly a month without rain, and similarly dry conditions in states north of us, there hasn’t been enough water for barges to move their freight.

Meanwhile, soybean harvest is in full swing up and down the Delta region and in much of the rest of the state. Food scarcity, due to the war in Ukraine, should make Mississippi’s soybeans - the state’s most lucrative row crop - even more valuable. But there’s no value in products that can’t make it to market.

“We have fully loaded grain trucks just parked in town, waiting for some other alternative,” Gipson said of the predicament. “We’ve gotta have barge traffic. We need the rain to fall.”

Last year, Mississippi-grown soybeans brought $1.5 billion to the state. But this year, farmers are no doubt wringing their hands. Demand continues to outpace the availability of truck and rail transport options, and according to numbers from the Soy Transportation Coalition, the cost of Mississippi River cargo transportation from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico is up 218% over 2021.

On Friday, one bored tugboat tankerman waiting for a chance to try pushing fuel barges again, called WLBT to explain circumstances from his vantage point on the river.

“We’re all just sitting here with about a hundred other boats,” he said from a spot near Vicksburg. “We’ve been here all week.”

He did not wish to be identified but said the water level was far below what was needed to move.

“There’s not even 10 feet of water, even in the middle of the river,” he said. The Army Corps of Engineers had been dredging nearby in an attempt to increase the channel’s depth, he said. But after moving a few miles, boats were getting stuck all over again.

Gipson called the circumstances, “a very delicate situation.”

And just think, he said, “We were all praying for dry weather a month ago.”

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