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Low water levels cause worry on Mississippi

August 16, 2008|From the Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — Low water levels on the Mississippi River are causing problems just weeks after one of the worst floods ever on Old Man River.

Twice this week, tows pushing barges on the Mississippi north of St. Louis have become stuck in dirt and sand in the navigation channel.

That's partly because the massive flooding in June washed tons of sand and soil into the river, which must be dredged out.

But it is also because portions of the Midwest have seen very little rain in the weeks since the flood. The river level is dropping as much as a foot a day in some areas, said Lt. Rob McCaskey of the U.S. Coast Guard office in St. Louis.

"When you go from extreme high water to low water, that has a tendency to leave behind significant sediment, and it shifts channels unexpectedly," McCaskey said.

The low water is causing concerns for the federal agencies responsible for the river, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard, as well as tow operators.

It is estimated that about 60% of the nation's agricultural commodities exported overseas are shipped down the river to New Orleans.

The change in river levels has been stunning. At Keokuk, Iowa, the Mississippi peaked at 26.9 feet on June 17, 10.9 feet above flood stage.

By Thursday, it was at 4.2 feet. At St. Louis, the river reached 38.7 feet on July 1. Flood stage is 30 feet. It now stands at 8.4 feet.

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