Low water upstream not seen as threat here

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 17, 2003

[1/16/03]Although the Mississippi is experiencing low water upstream, the river in the Vicksburg area should not face similar problems, forecasters said.

Tuesday the U.S. Coast Guard issued a safety advisory for an indefinite period for a 185-mile stretch from St. Louis to Cairo. The advisory came after one barge of a three-barge tow ran aground near Hartford, Ill., about 15 river miles upstream from St. Louis. The grounded barge was loaded with ethanol, but no injuries or leaks resulted.

The advisory limits the number of barges in tows and their loads.

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Winter is traditionally a low-water period. Dry conditions and freezing temperatures limit the flows into the river. St. Louis was 4 feet below the preferred low water mark for navigation and predicted to fall 2 more feet.

Amanda Roberts, a forecaster with the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Slidell, said she does not believe the Mississippi River in the Vicksburg area will see levels anywhere near as low as those near St. Louis.

“We are definitely going to experience a pretty good drop over the next five to seven days,” she said.

The Mississippi was at a level of 25.3 feet at Vicksburg Tuesday and was predicted to fall to 19.7 feet by Monday.

“We will probably get some more rainfall” before the Mississippi reaches very low levels, Roberts said.

Larry Banks, chief of water control at the Mississippi Valley Division headquarters here, said the situation from St. Louis to Cairo was primarily a local problem and agreed with Roberts’ predictions.

“They’ve got low water to start with because they’ve been relatively dry on that side of the basin,” Banks said. “And then, we’ve got a freeze up situation occurring due to the cold weather.”

The Ohio flows into the Mississippi at Cairo and is at sufficient levels.

“They still have good flows on the Ohio River, so there should be no problem here,” Banks said.

“I’ve heard we get 60 percent of our water from the Ohio River and the Upper Mississippi is not that important,” said Steve Golding, owner of Vicksburg-based Golding Barge Co. Inc.

Golding said it won’t be long, 30 days or a little more, before a wetter time of the year arrives, bringing with it rising levels on the Mississippi.

“I’d still load the barges to 9 feet (the standard draft to which barges are loaded) and keep on coming,” Golding said.

Spring 2003 is the 30th anniversary of the 1973 floods along the Mississippi, the worst since 1927.