A major port & the Coast Guard closely monitor Mississippi River levels

Published: Oct. 6, 2022 at 6:48 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Low Mississippi River levees impacted Plaquemines Parish’s water systems and there are concerns what is happening to river traffic in some neighboring states could impact the New Orleans area.

Coast Guard Lt. Commander Jim Fothergill is with Sector New Orleans.

“Currently, the New Orleans gauge reads 3 feet,” said Fothergill. “Currently, we’re not in a situation where we’re in what we call low water; our low water trigger is 2.5 feet.”

But low water levels upriver are causing significant problems in some other southern states.

“Currently, it seems that the largest impacts are actually in the sectors to our north to include Coast Guard Sector Lower Mississippi River which is based out of Memphis, Tennessee,” said Fothergill.

According to the Coast Guard the river remained closed on Thursday (Oct. 6) closed near Stack Island Mississippi and as well as near Memphis, Tennessee.

The Coast Guard says the total number of vessels in the queue in Mississippi is 117 and 2,048 barges. The number waiting in line as of midday Thursday near Memphis was 21 vessels and 273 barges. And the Coast Guard says due to low water levels on the lower Mississippi River, it has seen an increase in commercial vessel groundings.

While not necessary now the Coast Guard is prepared to put river restrictions in place if needed in the New Orleans area.

“Currently, we’re working diligently with the Corps of Engineers to both monitor and address these situations that arise and if the river level continues to fall, the Coast Guard may institute restrictions on both vessels and barges,” said Fothergill.

Upriver from New Orleans sits the Port of South Louisiana which stretches 54 miles along the river through St. Charles, St. John, and St. James Parishes.

Paul Matthews is the CEO of the port.

“The Port of South Louisiana has not experienced any significant impact yet from this problem but yet it is a very serious concern with our friends upriver not being able to move much of the grain down the Mississippi River to the Port of South Louisiana where we have seven of the nine grain elevators in the state and which we move 60% of the nation’s exported grain,” said Matthews.

Given the grain that moves through the port Matthews hopes the river situation improves sooner rather than later.

“Becomes a concern if we can’t get it onto our vessels and get it out of the port. The growing demand for grain in the rest of the world by America’s farmers, this becomes a very serious situation, so we are trying to do our best to monitor the situation and communicate with our partners such as the Coast Guard and the ports upriver to make sure that we do the best that we can to try to help get this problem solved,” he said.

The low river levels caused a saltwater wedge that affected water systems in Plaquemines Parish.

And soon the Corps plans to begin construction on an underwater levee to block the saltwater wedge and the U.S. Coast Guard is part of the planning.

“We’re working diligently with the Army Corps of Engineers and our port partners to ensure that when the time comes and they need a restriction on the river we’ve made the preparations to be able to help them out and get that done,” said Fothergill.

In New Orleans, the wedge has not impacted the city’s drinking water says the Sewerage and Water Board. The agency says New Orleans’ water intakes for drinking water are deep enough that the low river levels will not affect its customers.

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