In an effort to keep apprised of the ever-changing hydrograph forecasts, yesterday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released water storage again (first release was on December 15) from Carlyle Lake located on the Kaskaskia River near St. Louis to support the continuation of navigation on the Mississippi River.
The latest projections indicate that this water release, along with the current weather forecast, will cause the river gauge at Thebes to reach “3” and falling (dropping below 10 feet) around January 7; to reach “2” and falling (dropping below 9 feet) around January 15, and to reach “1” and falling (dropping below 8 feet) around January 23. The Corps also suggests that its rock pinnacle removal efforts may begin to have an impact on the controlling depths around January 20, but that is still to be determined.
When the gauge drops below a certain point, the Coast Guard reduces draft by one foot (or requires a minimum of one foot of under-keel clearance) to provide an adequate safety margin according to current rules.
The full majority of towboats cannot operate at less than a 9-foot draft, so the majority of navigation will cease on or around mid-January according to this latest forecast without more water.
The continued uncertainty regarding what drafts will be available continues to choke freight movements just as much as the low water itself. Without certainty that the water will be there when barges reach Thebes, shippers continue to light-load based on worst-case scenarios, or continue to cancel trips altogether. The channel at Thebes remains closed for 16 hours of the day, and only open 8 to towboats/shippers.
WCI, AWO and other stakeholders continue to press the White House, Congress and the States for assurances that the water will be there when barge shipments arrive in order to prevent further economic loss.