The U.S. Coast Guard Captain
of the Port (COTP), St. Louis, opened the Mississippi River to vessel traffic following the completion of dredging at mile marker 161.0, near the mouth of the Meramec River. The river had been closed to commercial vessel traffic since Dec. 14. However, low river levels have prompted the COTP St. Louis, and the COTP Paducah, Ky., to establish a joint Safety Advisory on the Upper Mississippi River between
Cairo, Ill., (mile marker 0.0) and St. Louis (mile marker 184.0). Northbound tows entering the advisory area may not have more than 30 barges in their tow, of which only 15 may be loaded. Southbound tows are limited to no more than 20 barges. All barges within the advisory area may not draft more than 9 feet, except for those barges loaded prior to noon on Dec. 12.
Low river stages are being further frustrated by the buildup of ice on the Illinois
and Missouri Rivers, which reduces the flow of water. Ice on the rivers can pose a number of safety concerns for the maritime industry. A buoy's reflective material, covered by ice, is rendered ineffective. Vessel operators may not see these ice-covered buoys clearly. The ice flows themselves may submerge or drag buoys off-station, eliminating one of the mariner's navigational tools. These concerns prompted the Coast Guard today to advise mariners on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to exercise extreme caution while navigating these waterways.
Lower than average rainfall this year and the recent weeks of below average temperatures have combined to create a low water event that has warranted the implementation of the Upper Mississippi River Low Water Action Plan. The Low Water Action Plan, the result of a cooperative effort between the Coast Guard and the towing vessel industry, helps promote safety on the river system during low water events and ensures that stakeholders are represented in the decision making process. The Coast Guard and towing vessel operators have been dealing with low water conditions off and on throughout much of this year. Today, the St. Louis gauge read -1.1 feet, down 0.5-feet since yesterday.