Water Levels Good for River Shipping - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Water Levels Good for River Shipping

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Photo courtesy: Tom Streight, Alter Logistics Photo courtesy: Tom Streight, Alter Logistics
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While the higher water levels we're seeing now may be causing some flooding problems for some people, they're not all bad news.

The situation for barge traffic on the Mississippi River has improved quite a bit with all the rain and snow melt over the weekend.

Since Friday, the Mississippi River at Rock Island has risen more than six feet, according to data from the National Weather Service.

Officials with the Alter Logistics barge line company tell us that has allowed them to load for a larger draft. Normally, they've been running at about nine feet. Now they're able to load to 10 feet.

That one foot makes a huge difference.

Every six inches of increased draft amounts to a roughly 108 ton increase in the cargo each barge can carry.

The more efficiently freight can be shipped, the lower rates can be kept for shipping customers.

The water levels on the Mississippi are slightly higher than normal for this time of year, but they are certainly not unusual.

What's unusual about them, is the turnaround they represent. Things are seemingly back to normal after last year's drought caused so many headaches for river shipping.

Now there weren't really navigation issues up here, where the lock and dam system keeps water levels relatively consistent.

But down stream, it was a very different story, and the Army Corps of Engineers had to do a lot of dredging and removal of rock outcroppings to keep the river open to barge traffic.

"If we were to resume the dry pattern that we were in last year, last summer, those conditions could come up again, but, for the foreseeable future, those navigation issues have subsided," Jim Stiman, Chief of the Water Control Section for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Rock Island Arsenal, said.

That is good news for everyone.

"We ship a lot of grain overseas and if you have a river closure for an extended period of time, it affects the national economy ultimately," Stiman explained.

Things should stay in good shape for the entire Mississippi River shipping industry, at least for the next few weeks.

Alter Barge said, after this weekend's boost alone, they expect to maintain favorable river levels for the next three to five weeks.

That said, high water does bring its own set of worries. Chief among them is fast currents to contend with.

Plus, too much of a good thing, and of course, there is the potential for flooding.