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‘Serious’ Mississippi River Woes Prompts Limits In Key US Port

Drought and Barge Backups on the Mississippi. Image courtesy of NASA Earth observatory. Instruments: In situ Measurement Landsat 9 — OLI-2. SMAP

‘Serious’ Mississippi River Woes Prompts Limits In Key US Port

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October 22, 2022

By Kim Chipman (Bloomberg) –“Serious concerns” over critically low water levels in the Mississippi River system led port authorities to limit vessel drafts near a key export hub, potentially adding a further headache for shippers already contending with delays and skyrocketing costs. 

The US Coast Guard said in a statement late Friday that ships’ draft depth would be limited to 41 feet upriver of the port of Baton Rouge, the nation’s eighth-largest by tonnage. That’s down from 45 feet, a level at which vessels are encountering problems as drought dries up the waterway. 

The move is an attempt to head off possible safety hazards as shippers contend with a backlog of barges and ocean vessels tasked with picking up and delivering core commodities such as grains, petroleum, coal, metals and fertilizer. The Mississippi typically moves more than 500 million tons of freight a year valued at more than $100 billion, according to government data.

The limits apply to vessels moving to and from facilities upstream of mile marker 228, which includes Exxon Mobil’s massive Baton Rouge oil refinery, one of the nation’s largest. A shallower draft may also limit how much cargo can be put on ships carrying corn and soybeans from the US to buyers around the world, further increasing the cost to export crops during the harvest season. The situation may get worse — the current forecast is calling for water levels to steeply decline further, according to the Coast Guard. 

Earlier, the Coast Guard said there were more than 1,800 barges were stuck along the river after multiple sections were closed due to low water levels. The US Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging various sections of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to open up the channels. 

–With assistance from Diego Lasarte.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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