The unusually low water level in the lower Mississippi River is causing barges to get stuck in mud and sand, disrupting river travel for shippers, recreational boaters and even passengers on a cruise line.
Lack of rainfall in recent weeks has left the Mississippi River approaching record low levels in some areas from Missouri south through Louisiana. The U.S. Coast Guard said at least eight “groundings” of barges have been reported in the past week, despite low-water restrictions on barge loads.
Officials cleared dozens of barges from a river channel near Lake Providence, Louisiana, and dredged it after a groundling occurred Friday, halting river traffic in both directions for days. To keep river traffic flowing, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging the Mississippi at several spots and placed limits on the number of barges each tow can move.
2022 Fat Bear Week is here:See which bears will compete to be named the chonkiest.
Low water levels lead to discovery:Lost villages, ancient ruins, WWII ships uncovered as extreme heat lowers water levels
Cruise ship with 350 passengers stuck, forced to cancel
The stoppage also brought a halt to a Viking cruise ship with about 350 passengers on board, said R. Thomas Berner, a Penn State professor emeritus of journalism and American studies, and one of the passengers.
The Viking ship was originally supposed to launch from New Orleans on Saturday, but the water there was so low that the launch was moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Berner said.
What to know if you leave a cruise:Did you leave a cruise early or were you asked to exit? Either way, here’s what to know.
Cruise for free once a year:Margaritaville at Sea is expanding ‘Heroes Sail Free’ program
By Tuesday, the ship was halted near Vicksburg, Mississippi, due to the backup caused by the grounding. It wasn’t near a dock so passengers couldn’t leave.
The stuck barges were freed Tuesday, but Viking told passengers in a letter Wednesday that the rest of the scheduled two-week trip was being called off, citing low water problems causing additional closures. Viking made arrangements to get passengers home and the letter said they would get a full refund.
Why the timing is especially bad for agriculture
Nearly all of the Mississippi River basin, from Minnesota through Louisiana, has seen below-normal rainfall since late August. The basin from St. Louis south has been largely dry for three months, according to the National Weather Service.
The timing is bad because barges are busy carrying recently harvested corn and soybeans up and down the river.
‘He just grew and grew like Clifford’:Fenrir named world’s tallest living domestic cat
Period Action Day:1 in 4 struggle to buy menstrual products. 22 states still tax them.
Lucy Fletcher of the agricultural retailer AGRIServices of Brunswick, who serves on the board for the St. Louis-based trade association Inland Rivers, Ports & Terminals, said navigation woes on the Mississippi, Missouri and other major rivers have some shippers looking at other means of transportation.
What’s the impact on fall travel and shipping prices?
There’s not an abundance of rail availability, Fletcher said, and usually people are booking their transportation for fall early in the season.
“So if they haven’t booked that freight already, you’re going to see people in dire straits.”
Fletcher said that with the supply chain still snagged following the COVID-19 pandemic, trucks also are largely booked and unavailable.
Peep the leaves by rail:Amtrak has you covered for foliage spotting this fall
Mike Steenhoek, executive director of Soy Transportation Coalition, estimated that barge capacity is down by about one-third this fall because of limits on the tows caused by the low water. That reduced capacity at a time when demand remains high is contributing to a 41% jump in barge shipping prices over the past year.
Matt Ziegler, manager of public policy and regulatory affairs for the National Corn Growers Association, said about 20% of the corn crop is exported, and nearly two-thirds of those exports typically travel down the Mississippi River on barges.
“It’s certainly the worst time possible for these bad conditions,” Ziegler said.
The forecast for much of the Mississippi River basin calls for continued dry weather in the near future.
AP journalists Josh Funk in Omaha, Nebraska, and Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee, contributed to this report.