Low Mississippi River levels to impact state and national economy

Published: Nov. 1, 2022 at 9:20 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Low Mississippi River levels are causing panic among cities and ports along the river, with many already seeing the negative impacts.

Cities like Vicksburg and Greenville heavily rely on tourism and shipping on the Mississippi River, and when it’s this low and to the point where I can stand inside, the amount of traffic on the river has to decrease. As a result, officials say it will impact the state and nation’s economies.

Nearly 500 million tons of goods are shipped on the Mississippi River each year. However, when river levels drop well below average, only so much can move up and downstream.

“It’s definitely created navigational hazards along the marine transportation system. Despite the continuous dredging and the remarking of the channel, there are times where we do have to impose, you know, periodic waterway restrictions like tow size and draft restrictions,” said Lt. Phillip Vanderweit with the U.S. Coast Guard.

According to the US Army Corp of Engineers, the average water level this time of year in Greenville is 17.8ft. Tuesday, that number is 7.38ft, something Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons has noticed.

“The slow movement of barge freight has substantially increased transportation costs, and what you’re doing is you’re putting in loading, half-full barges due to low river levels,” Mayor Simmons said.

As a result, the amount of goods moving up the river, as well as being sold and put into stores, is decreasing and could impact not only the state’s economy but the nation’s.

“The Mississippi River Basin manufactures or grows over 90% of American exports,” said Vice President of Waterways Council Paul Rhode. “Agriculture exports are a crucial part of that. 60% of our ag exports move right down the Mississippi River.”

With about 38% of Greenville’s population living below the poverty line, Mayor Simmons says little revenue for his city could cause his citizens to struggle even more.

“If they can’t get barges up and down the river, you’re going to begin to see a global food shortage or high costs house of foods continue to go up,” said Mayor Simmons.

“In 2012, we had spread price spikes for meat and dairy upwards of $3 increase for consumers. We hope we don’t see that for this drought, but it’s what we’re we’re monitoring very closely. So the average citizen is definitely going to feel the effects,” said Executive Director of Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative Colin Wellenkamp.

Going forward, those experts you just heard from, as well as our First Alert Meteorologists, agree it could take up to several months before the river is at a fully functioning level again. It won’t just be from the rain here in the South; it will need to come from snow melting in the north and more.

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