The worst drought in decades may shut down the Mississippi River to barge traffic this month costing thousands of jobs.
It’s an issue that has plagued states along the Mississippi River for months and has now landed squarely on the desk of President Obama: how to prevent the imminent shutdown of commercial traffic along the nation’s largest waterway.
A nationwide drought, the worst to hit the U.S. in decades, has lowered water levels along the river, threatening barge traffic.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Thursday that the President raised the issue with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, directing his administration to take “every step to mitigate” the situation. Carney added that there are a number of “complex” legal and technical steps which can be pursued, saying the Army Corps of Engineers has taken “proactive” measures.
The biggest obstacle is jagged rocks jutting up from the bottom of the Mississippi which make it impossible for barges to move.
“The Corps needs to get in there and literally blow them up to get them out of the way or we will be either extremely limited or completely shut down some time between December 15 and December 30,” Senior Vice President of Regional Advocacy for the American Waterways Operators Lynn Muench said. “If we do lose the river between mid-December and January, the jobs that are at risk in Missouri are almost 3,000 jobs.”
Closing the river in December and January would halt 10,600 barges, stopping the movement of about $7 billion worth of goods, according to a Nov. 28 study released by the Waterways Council and The American Waterways Operators.