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Dubuque marinas, boaters left dry due to dramatic drop in Mississippi River

The Mississippi River is low near Chaplain Schmitt Island in Dubuque. (Justin Gehrts, KCRG-TV9)
The Mississippi River is low near Chaplain Schmitt Island in Dubuque. (Justin Gehrts, KCRG-TV9)(KCRG)
Published: Aug. 23, 2018 at 6:00 PM CDT
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The level of the Mississippi River has dropped as much as two feet in two days in some areas in eastern Iowa, and that's causing boats and marinas to come to a standstill.

At the Lock and Dam 11 on Monday, the river measured at 5.85 feet. It dropped to about 4 feet on Wednesday.

George Stringham, a spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the sudden and dramatic drop was caused by little rain up north. He said the Corps was aware the drop was coming, but didn't expect it to happen so suddenly.

When the levels dropped, dams had to be closed to maintain a 9 foot channel.

American Marine General Manager Bobby Luhm said that causes less water near the shorelines.

"We’re recommending people stay out of the shallow areas and most of the shallow areas are in and out of marinas and close to the shoreline," he said.

Some boats on their docks were sitting on dry land on Wednesday. The water rose about a foot on Thursday, but the marina is still in very shallow water. With no boats coming in or out, business is slow.

Luhm said, "we have rental boats, gas dock, a transient dock for people traveling up and down the river (and) they can’t come in and out.”

The same can be said at the Dubuque Marina where many boats were on dry land on Wednesday.

Partner Pete Ludwig said, "when it gets that low, we don’t want to chance damaging someone’s property, so it kind of put us at a standstill.”

He said he's never seen the water drop so low so quickly.

"We’ve been here for four years and we’ve never seen it," Ludwig said. "Talk to the previous owner, and he said he’s never seen it himself."

Luhm said it's an unfortunate circumstance that can hurt the business and people's boats.

"Right now we’re more concerned with the safety of our slip holders and making sure they stay safe out there," he said.

Sailor Andy Wilberding planned to take his sailboat out on Thursday, but Luhm advised him against it.

Wilberding said, "I’ve never seen anything like this where one day it’s 8.5 feet and the next day it’s just gone down the drain so to speak.”

On Thursday, the river level at the Lock and Dam 11 was measured at about 5 feet.

Boaters and marinas alike hope the trend continues upward.

"I wish they’d bring the river up so our boaters can get back to what they like to do, and that’s boating," Luhm said.