The situation of low water levels on the middle Mississippi River continues to cause great uncertainty for the nation’s industrial shippers.  If channel depths go below nine feet as is expected sometime later this month, barge traffic carrying $7 billion worth of cargo would be significantly impaired.

Any potential closure due to low water depths or other navigational hazards that prevent towboats and barges carrying agriculture products, fertilizer, steel, coal, petroleum products and other commodities will lead to lost economic opportunities and damage the competitiveness of manufacturers. Hundreds of manufacturing facilities, terminals and docks are located in the Upper Mississippi River basin which spans 858 miles from Minnesota to the Ohio River.

The impending crisis on the Mississippi has grabbed the attention of lawmakers on the Hill and forced federal bureaucrats to move faster on a rock removal project that should have been accomplished years ago. The expedited removal of these rock formations near Thebes and Grand Tower, IL is welcome news but manufacturers need a greater level of certainty from the Administration that water levels will not be allowed to reach a point that cripples waterborne commerce. Time is of the essence for the Administration to develop a comprehensive plan that will ensure the entire Mississippi River remains fully open to navigation.   

The looming emergency on the middle Mississippi River is a reminder that Congress must soon pass a long-overdue Water Resources Development Act (WRDA ). In the meantime, the Administration must take additional action beyond removal of the rock formations, including releasing appropriate levels of water, to avoid a breakdown on the river. Taking this step will promote commerce, economic growth and jobs.

Robyn Boerstling is director of transportation and infrastructure policy, national associaton of manufacturers.

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