Drought-Parched Mississippi River is Halting Barges
By Alan Bjerga
Nov 26, 2012
Mississippi River barge traffic is slowing as the worst drought in five decades combines with a seasonal dry period to push water levels to a near-record low, prompting shippers to seek alternatives.
River vessels are cutting loads on the nation’s busiest waterway while railroads sign up new business and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers draws criticism from lawmakers over its management of the river, which could be shut to cargo from companies including Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM) next month.
“Our shippers are looking at alternate modes of transportation,” said Marty Hettel, senior manager of bulk sales for AEP River Operations, the barge unit of American Electric Power Co. (AEP), a utility owner based in Columbus, Ohio. “If you’re shipping raw materials to a steel mill in Chicago, you’re trying to figure out if you can go to Cincinnati or Louisville, Kentucky, unload it out of the barge and rail it up to the steel mill.”
The worst U.S. drought since 1956, which dried farmland from Ohio to Nebraska, will last at least through February in most areas, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. Barges on the Mississippi handle about 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports entering the Gulf of Mexico through New Orleans, as well as 22 percent of its petroleum and 20 percent of its coal.