Historically low Miss. River makes for intriguing photos, but poses difficult challenges
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The Mississippi River usually rests about mid-way up the USS Kidd in downtown Baton Rouge, but with the river’s waterline falling lower and lower, the warship’s underbelly is becoming a new spot for family photos.
While some are peaking at propellers and areas of the boat usually hidden by the murky waters of the mighty Mississippi, shipping companies are having to adjust to the historically lower levels.
“It’s extremely low water, likely record low water,” Ron Zornes, Director of Corporate Operations with Canal Barge Co., said.
Zornes says the company’s 900 barges and 50 tow boats have to move fewer products at a time upriver in order to navigate some of the harder-hit waterways.
“We need to load them lighter, so they don’t have as deep a draft that they normally do,” he said.
Though shipping goods has grown increasingly challenging, Zornes says his company and others like it are busier now than ever.
“The equipment is more artificially in demand because all that product needs to be moved but now you have to move it with a lot more barges than in a normal water situation. So, to move the same amount of product takes a lot longer and a lot more equipment which is more expensive than normal,” he said.
It’s not just shipping companies that have to deal with the low water levels in the Mississippi. The Port of New Orleans says some cruise lines are feeling the effects too.
In a statement, the port says “River cruise lines are reporting some delays and cancelations upriver. Port NOLA continues to closely monitor the situation.”
American Cruise Lines says most of their cruises upstream and downstream remain unaffected by the water levels, while American Queen Voyages says six cruises had to have an itinerary change. Port NOLA also says that cruises heading out to sea are unaffected by the river’s issues.
Meanwhile, environmental experts say they are concerned about what the water levels mean for local wildlife.
“I think there’s a lot of marine life that could be impacted by that. That’s probably where we will see it the most in Louisiana,” John Sabo, Director, ByWater Institute, said.
Sabo worries about the salinity levels in estuaries right off the coast as a result of not enough fresh water getting dumped in from the Mississippi River and too much water coming in from the Gulf of Mexico. He says that could have negative effects on Louisiana seafood and the animals that call the habitat home.
For that reason, Sabo says more people along the coast need to pay attention to weather patterns not just in the region but around the Mississippi’s water sources.
“The Mississippi is an enormous river. It drives water from 32 U.S. states and one providence in Canada. So, things that happen upstream really affect us because the river ends here,” he said.
And with climate change having its effects on the weather, Sabo says those who depend on the Mississippi can only hope for more consistent rain next year.
“Just one rain shower, just one storm moving through won’t do it. We’ll need a lot of rain over an extended period of time to really build back up the flow of water,” Zornes said.
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