Drought drops Mississippi River levels below average
Written by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
The average level at Dubuque's railroad bridge this time of year is 8.5 feet. Thursday afternoon, it was 8.48 feet.
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -
The latest US Drought Monitor Map classifies two-thirds of Iowa as under a "severe" drought.
Because of these weather conditions, just this week, the Mississippi River along eastern Iowa has dipped below normal levels for this time of year.
Experts say it's not a dire situation right now in this area, but it could get worse.
Barges on the Mighty Mississippi carry everything from fertilizer to building materials to crops. If the river drops low enough to where it interrupts or completely stops barge traffic, that - coupled with the drought's negative impact on crops - could mean a rise in food prices, starting first with products related to corn.
The average river level for this time of year at Dubuque's railroad bridge is 8.5 feet. Thursday afternoon, it was about 8.48 feet and dropping.
The US Army Corps of Engineers is working closely with the Coast Guard, NOAA and the shipping industry to monitor the river situation. So far, the Corps has not stopped any barge traffic, but that could change if this drought continues.
Dan Arnold is the construction general manager for Newt Marine in Dubuque, which, among other services, unloads barges' content.
"An awful lot of grain goes out by barge. A lot of fuel also gets transported, so all those products could be impacted if the barges can't move," Arnold said. "It would be a serious impact."
He said completely shutting down barge traffic, however, is relatively rare.
"It would have to get quite a bit lower before it will impact barge traffic in this area," Arnold said. "The further north we go, the more difficult it becomes as the water gets lower up there."
Another concern is the safety of recreational boaters, who could hit newly-exposed rocks and sandbars with the low river levels.
Maren Stoflet is a hydrologist with the National Weather Service. She said recent heavy rains in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota have prevented the river from dropping below average before this week, but it will take a lot more rain -- and soon -- to keep it from dropping much more.
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