In normal times, Tower Rock (pictured above) serves as a landmark on the Mississippi River, about 90 miles below St. Louis. It’s 344 feet high, and it’s accessible only by boat. As of a few days ago, school children were walking out to the rock without getting their feet wet.
These are not normal times. The Mississippi is running low; some 40 gauges are recording low water records all along the mighty river, according to NOAA. Barges carrying crops and cargo from America’s heartland are getting stuck and running aground in mud; the delays will cause disruption in supply chains around the world. A Viking river cruise liner, with 300 passengers, couldn’t reach its destination in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The problem is the severe draught covering along the Mississippi River basin from Minnesota down to Louisiana. Earlier this month, the Coast Guard temporarily closed a section of the lower Mississippi for dredging, leaving 100 tows and 1,500 barges stranded. The Army Corps of Engineers also is dredging portions of the river to keep traffic flowing. And it just announced it will build a 1,500-foot-wide underwater levee to keep salt water from pushing up the river from the Gulf of Mexico.
For anyone cruising along the river, or taking it as part of the Great Loop, the low water presents a challenge. Anchoring out will be problematic, while some marinas may not be accessible. Captains will have to be more aware than ever of the wake coming from the huge tugs and barges traveling along the river; low water will make them more unpredictable than ever. And the low water certainly will affect the ability of those tugs to change course.
Boat owners along the river already report problems launching their boats; one woman in Tennessee said she had to try five different docks before she could launch her small boat.
And the receding river has uncovered some surprises. The remains of a 19th century trading ship was uncovered in the sand near Baton Rouge. It was built in 1896. Read more: