Already low water on the Mississippi River around St. Louis was expected by this weekend to approach levels too shallow for barge transportation, and a damaged lock slowed river traffic near Davenport, Iowa, river officials said Thursday. The St. Louis gauge for the Mississippi was at 3.0 feet on Wednesday and was forecast to hit 0.0 feet by Saturday. River traffic can continue operation through St. Louis until the gauge hits -3.5 feet and the river channel is 9 feet deep, the shallowest depth at which barge traffic
"Any time it gets below five feet on the St. Louis gauge, everybody starts to monitor that. And when it gets below zero the river industry will start forming a low action water group and you'll see restrictions on tows and other things," said Charles Camillo, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis district. The Upper Mississippi Low Action Water Group, an organization coordinated by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Corps of Engineers and river industry associations, meets during low water events to institute safety precautions for barges such as weight and tow-size restrictions, Camillo said.
The group had not convened as of Wednesday, but Camillo said that some action could be taken by next week if the river continues to fall.
"We need some extended rainfall for a long time to help out. Nothing's been initiated thus far with the low water group, but it will," Camillo said.
Over the past 24 hours, 0.25 to 1.00 inch of rain fell across Iowa, and showers extended into northern Missouri and northwestern Illinois, according to a Weather Services Corp. meteorologist.
About 300 miles north near Davenport, Iowa, the Corps of Engineers was reporting no problems or potential closings due to low water levels, but lock 15 near Rock Island, Illinois, was closed Thursday due to a broken gate on the lock.
The 600-foot main chamber was expected to remain closed for the next seven days as repairs continued, officials said. Barge tows passing lock 15 were using the 360-foot auxiliary lock.
"It's going to put a pretty good slowdown on lockage because a 1,200-foot tow will have to break down three or four times to fit through the chamber," said Ron Fournier of the Corps or Engineers Rock Island district.
Several low-water areas around Davenport were being dredged due to rapidly falling river waters after the spring flood, but officials said the river is not in danger of closing to traffic in the Davenport area.
"Our dredging crews are out there working on some specific areas, but as far as maintaining the nine-foot channel we're not having any problems," said Justine Barati, spokesman for the Corps of Engineers Rock Island District. - (Reuters)