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Prolonged Drought Could Shut Down Shipping on the Mighty Mississippi

This time last year the Mississippi around St. Louis was 20 feet deeper

“Traffic Jam on the Mississippi River” Photo: TeamSaintLouis

In the next two weeks the Mississippi River could be shut down—no boats, no shipments—unless the weather takes a dramatic turn or a controversial plan to flood the traditionally-mighty river from an upstream tributary is carried out. The Guardian:

The shipping industry in St Louis wants the White House to order the release of more water from the Missouri river, which flows into the Mississippi, to keep waters high enough for the long barges to float down the river to New Orleans.

As early as July, forecasters had been warning of the impending gridlock, with some periodic closures kicking off in August. More water in the Mississippi would keep the river levels high enough for shipments to continue to flow, but the decision would have dramatic upstream consequences.

Sending out more water from the Missouri would doom states upstream, such as Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota, which depend on water from the Missouri and are also caught in the drought.

The dilemma, of shorting those along the Missouri River or letting shipping traffic on one of America’s most important rivers run dry, comes as a consequence of the dramatic drought that has gripped much of the Mississippi River watershed since the summer. The land that feeds the Mississippi River stretches across the vast majority of the central US—from the Rockies to the Appalachians—aligning remarkably well with the regions that have been plagued by drought.

The Coast Guard says that they will be able to keep traffic flowing, says CBS News. But, they seem to be fighting an uphill battle. “This time last year,” says the Guardian, “the Mississippi around St. Louis was 20ft deeper because of heavy rain.”

More from Smithsonian.com:
U.S. Faces Worst Drought Since 1956
Watch Drought Dry Up America’s Groundwater

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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