Yazoo up 20 feet in four days

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 25, 2001

A towboat makes its way north up the Mississippi River past City Front near the mouth of the Yazoo River Wednesday afternoon. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

[01/25/01] Swift water in the Yazoo River is causing problems for barge traffic moving in and out of the Vicksburg Harbor and putting a strain on local businesses that use the waterway.

Marine documentation supervisor George Hunt with Ergon Refinery Inc. on Haining Road said the river, which provides barge access from the Mississippi River to the harbor, is moving faster than he has ever seen it.

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“I’ve been in the business for about 25 years, and I’ve never seen it this bad,” Hunt said.

Towboat operators have struggled since Sunday, when levels in the Yazoo jumped nearly 20 feet in about four days, Hunt said.

Normally a single towboat can push up to 40 barges at a time up and down the river, but the strong current forced Ergon to dock some barges south of the Interstate 20 Mississippi River bridge and take the load up the Yazoo one or two barges at a time, Hunt said.

In another case Wednesday, the company used three towboats to push a set of barges up the river and into the Yazoo, but even with the three boats, the barges could move no more than one mile per hour upstream, he said.

“You can see the difference right there at the mouth of the Yazoo,” Hunt said.

Wayland Hill, a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the problems with the current began last Thursday when heavy rains in the northern parts of the state caused the Yazoo River to rise faster than the Mississippi River.

“With the low water on the Mississippi River, things just got complicated,” Hill said.

On Jan. 18, the Yazoo River at Yazoo City was at 8.4 feet but rose to 27.7 feet by Sunday. Flood stage at Yazoo City is 29 feet.

During that same time, the Mississippi River went from 3.5 feet to 6.3 at Vicksburg, where the flood stage is 43 feet. As of Thursday morning, the Yazoo was at 26.8 feet and the Mississippi was at 9.5.

The difference between the two rivers from Yazoo City to where the Yazoo River dumps into the Mississippi at the Vicksburg bend, about 74 miles, has caused the current in the Yazoo to pick up speed greater than normal, Hill said.

“It will require a lot more horse power to get things up and down the river for now,” Hill said.

But, help is on the way, he said. As the Mississippi begins to rise in the next week, Hill said he expects the Yazoo River to again return to normal.

He said the Mississippi River should go up to about 19 feet in the next 10 days.