Ice melt and rising water levels on the Illinois and upper-Mississippi rivers improved barge movement but traffic was backed up near Alton, Illinois, after the Melvin Price lock reopened, officials said Thursday.
The Melvin Price auxiliary lock on the upper-Mississippi River near Alton began locking tows at 7 p.m. on Wednesday after closing the lock on Monday to flush ice from the dam. "They're not finished flushing ice but they are locking because most of the heavy ice has passed," said Charles Camillo, U.S. Army Corps of Engineer spokesman.
As of Thursday morning, 16 south-bound tows and three north-bound tows were waiting to pass through the Melvin Price auxiliary lock, Camillo said. Locks north of Alton on the Mississippi River remained frozen and officials expected nothing to change soon.
"Based on how frozen the river is, we're not anticipating flushing any ice for at least the next two weeks," Camillo said. But in St. Louis, water levels were about foot higher than they were a week ago, officials said. "There's plenty of water in the St. Louis area. Barring any problems with ice, water levels should be fine over the next few weeks as the ice melts," Camillo said.
Water levels on the Missouri River were
also up, which was expected to improve navigation through the St. Louis area, he said.
"An emergency release of water at the LaGrange lock and later at Melvin Price caused the ice to break up and flow down river," said Lt. Chris O'Neil, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman in the St. Louis office.
Last Thursday, the Coast Guard closed a 60-mile section of the Illinois River above and below the LaGrange lock south of Peoria, Illinois, to clear a wall of ice near the lock. The lock was reopened Saturday. "Stabilizing water levels and ice melt allowed us ease our travel restrictions on both the Illinois and upper-Mississippi," O'Neil said.
All travel restrictions on the Illinois River were removed and on the upper-Mississippi restrictions were eased last week. For vessels traveling from St. Louis to Cairo, Illinois, barge draft remained at nine feet and south-bound tows were restricted to no more than 20 barges and northbound tows to 30 barges, with a maximum of 20 loaded. The previous restriction limited tows to no more than 15 barges loaded.
Restrictions were expected to stay in place as river officials were dredging a 7-mile stretch of the Mississippi south of St. Louis due to shoaling and remark a 9-foot navigational channel.
But on the lower-Mississippi River water levels were extremely low falling another foot over the past week causing several tows to hit ground, Coast Guard officials said.
"We've had about 10 groundings in the past week. The most recent was about 35 miles north of Memphis," said Lt. Commander Bruce Fisher, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said.
Advisory travel notices remain in effect from Cairo, Illinois, to Vicksburg, Mississippi, Fisher said. South-bound tows were limited to 30 barges and north-bound tows limited to 36 barges with a 10-foot draft or less. "The forecast is for water to rise over the next couple days -- looking for an extra foot to two feet in the next week -- beyond that it's hard to predict," Fisher said.