Low water disrupts industry along lower Mississippi River

Associated Press
Low-water restrictions on the barge loads make for cautious navigation through the Mississippi River as evidenced by this tow passing under a Mississippi River bridge in Vicksburg, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Plummeting water levels in the lower Mississippi River are projected to drop even further in the weeks ahead, a projection shows, dampening the region's economic activity and potentially threatening jobs in one of the country's poorest states.

In Vicksburg, on the Mississippi river's east bank near the Louisiana line, the water is approaching its lowest level since 2012. The river's level near that Mississippi city on Thursday was 4.3 feet, and it is projected to drop to 3 feet by Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Falling water levels have disrupted industrial shipping and tourism in the area and are on pace to keep dropping.

"Right now, the latest forecast is going to take us down on Nov. 8 down to 2 feet at Vicksburg and it could drop a lower than that," Marty Pope, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service Office in Jackson, told the Vicksburg Post.

A dearth of rainfall in recent weeks has left the Mississippi River approaching record low levels in some areas across several states. Nearly all of the Mississippi River basin, from Minnesota through Louisiana, has seen below-normal rainfall since late August. The low levels have caused barges to get stuck in mud and sand, disrupting river travel for shippers, recreational boaters and passengers on a cruise line.

The unusually low water level is evidenced by the exposed pier cap pile of the bridge. The low water has caused some barges to get stuck in the muddy river bottom, resulting in delays as reported by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Companies that transport industrial products along the river in barges offer a window into the regionwide economic impacts of the low water levels. Companies are loading their barges with less cargo to traverse the river safely.

North of Vicksburg, agricultural products remained stalled in the ports along the river, Diaz said. At least 19 companies rely on the Port of Vicksburg and together they support about 4,000 jobs in the region.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging the Mississippi at several spots to keep river traffic flowing.