Barge traffic on U.S. Midwest rivers continued slow as low water levels on the upper and lower Mississippi River
and ice buildup on the Illinois River
kept navigation treacherous, Reuters reported on Wednesday. "At the Memphis gauge, the water level is about three feet below the desired level," said Lt. Brian Meier, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman
, Memphis office. "The forecast is for water levels to stay pretty steady for next couple days," he said.
Low water levels and a barge grounding about 30 miles south of Memphis this week caused river officials to issue a travel advisory from Cairo, Illinois, to Vicksburg, Mississippi. Southbound tows were limited to 30 barges and northbound tows limited to 36 barges with a 10-foot draft or less.
In the St. Louis area, water levels were holding steady this week -- about foot higher than they were a week ago -- with a forecast for river levels to rise, river officials said.
"Ice is pretty well dissipated in St. Louis and some rain is in the forecast for the weekend which should help," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Jerry Rapp said. "Navigation remains about the same but if we get some rain and warmer temperatures we should get some decent run off. Maybe we'll see water levels move up over zero," Rapp said.
One dealer in Evansville, Ind., located on the Ohio River, said that snow cover in his area was nearly all melted and some local forecasters predicted temperatures to rise to 50 degrees Fahrenheit by the weekend.
Weather Services Corp. meteorologist Mike Palmerino called for mostly rain in the southern Midwest over the weekend but 4 to 8 inches of snow in the upper Midwest. Temperatures were expected to stretch into the 30s to 40s Fahrenheit in the southern Midwest with lows in the teens to 20s F in the north.
But river officials were concerned that warmer temperatures could cause additional navigation problems south of St. Louis.
"There's a considerable amount of ice north of St. Louis. When it warms up it's going to move down and hit ice buoys which mark the navigational channel for barges," said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Paul Putkey.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Coast Guard was resetting buoys on the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Cairo, Illinois, to mark a nine-foot navigational channel for barge traffic.
On the Illinois River, traffic remained slow as of Wednesday afternoon with ice buildup keeping barge movement restricted, river officials said. But grain dealers were seeing some improvement from Pekin, Illinois, southward. According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lockmaster reports, ice was still up to 15 inches thick near Chicago. Further south in Peoria ice was about 13 inches thick. "We're not expecting much of a change until the ice gets out of here," Greg Patridge, assistant lockmaster at Peoria said. - (Reuters)