JANUARY 2, 2013 — The American Waterways Operators (AWO) and Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) have released revised data on the economic impact of an effective shutdown of the Mississippi River to barge traffic in the month of January. Earlier data had examined the impacts between December and January.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' latest weather and water forecast for the Mississippi River near Thebes, Illinois, south of St. Louis, where rock pinnacle removal work is taking place, suggests that commerce on the Mississippi River could come to an effective halt between January 5 and 15 when the required 9-foot draft will fall to an 8-foot draft. The majority of towboats require a 9-foot draft to operate and only a very small number of towing vessels can operate at 8- or 7-foot drafts.
Stakeholders continue to urge the Administration to release a minimal amount of water from Missouri River reservoirs (an additional 4,000 cfs or 1% of current storage in the reservoir system) to avert this effective shutdown of the Mississippi River to barge transportation. While the Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard have said that they will not officially close the river, falling water levels and a lack of sustained water will preclude navigation because towboats will be physically unable to transit the area between St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois.
AWO and WCI say that the economic data indicate that in January alone (January 7-31), the potential supply-chain disruption in Mississippi River states could affect more than 8,000 jobs, more than $54 million in wages and benefits, as well as 7.2 million tons of commodities valued at $2.8 billion. This does not take into account the uncertainty in the supply chain that affected operations during the month of December or any potential economic impacts that will extend into February if the nation's waterborne superhighway effectively comes to a halt.
"The uncertainty of this deteriorating situation for the nation's shippers is having as much of an impact as the lack of water itself," said Michael J. Toohey, WCI's President & CEO. "The Administration must direct the Corps to release enough water to sustain navigation on the Mississippi River now or time will have run out and an effective shutdown could remain in place for weeks," he continued.
"As these new economic numbers clearly indicate, our nation's shippers, farmers, manufacturers, operators, and consumers, and working Americans with jobs now at risk, will be hard hit in the first month of the New Year unless water is provided now to avert a shutdown," said Tom Allegretti, AWO's President & CEO. "Halting waterborne commerce and exports during the busiest period for agriculture shipping will have impacts on the entire nation. We continue to urge the White House to authorize the release of additional water immediately to maintain navigation on the country's most important waterway."