Drought Dries Up Mississippi Flow; Low Level Threatens Shipping, Threatens Drinking Water Near New Orleans
August 8, 2012 • 8:41AM

The drought-lowered run-off in the Mississippi Basin is manifest in drastically lowered river flow now resulting in barge-shipping problems, and even threatening salt water intrusion into New Orleans area drinking water. Meantime, the forecast for August is for continued searing heat and scant rainfall in most of the Midwest as well as Southwest. The worst factor of all, is the continuation of Obama in office, and in particular, cutbacks to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Today, Obama responded according to his look-at-me nature, by attending a "White House Rural Council" confab, to convey a fake show of concern through a speech, and issuing a statement, about what his agencies are doing, including $30 million more through the Agriculture Department for water for livestock.

The Rural Council, formed by Obama Executive Order in June, 2011, consists of 25 Federal departments and agencies, headed by Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack, and is convened and conducted a la the British royalist country squire and home county fete-style of "rural life." Two ongoing Obama priorities of the Rural Council are "Bio-Based Products" (agricultural production for greenie non-food use), and local farm markets.

What is required are emergency measures and mustering of resources to care for people and critical economic activity, in line with the new Full Recovery platform now being circulated by LPAC.

- Salt Water Threatens Outer New Orleans Drinking Water -

The river flow in the Lower Mississippi is showing the same problems as in the 1988 drought. Salt water from the Gulf of Mexico is moving inland, because of the low Mississippi River level, and as of yesterday, the briny water had reached the outskirts of New Orleans, 85 miles upriver from where the Mississippi empties into the Gulf. Yesterday, the Army Corps called for bids for rush-construction of a sill in the river channel, to prevent the salt water from moving upstream, and protect the freshwater intake valves for towns in Plaquemines Parish, south of New Orleans. Today, Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, planned to declare a state of emergency, in order to see that contingencies were being set in motion, to maintain his residents' water supply. Neighboring Jefferson Parish can be on stand-by to provide water.

The sill structure — done in past droughts, consists of mounding sediment at the bottom of the river, to erect a dam-like barrier, which can halt the denser salt water from flowing upstream, which it will otherwise tend to do, like a wedge, under the lighter fresh water.

- Dangerous Navigation; Reduced Cargoes -

Shipping is also hit by the low water levels, which are about 12 ft below normal for this time of year. Barges must off-load 204 tons of cargo for every one-foot loss of draft (a draft is the distance between a ship's waterline and the lowest point of its keel), according to the American Waterways Operators. Lighter barges means longer waits for cargo. The Mississippi carries about 20 percent of U.S. coal, oil, and gas shipments, as well as 60 percent of its grain.

Navigation is very dangerous under the low-flow conditions, with a thinner channel. The tows have to avoid bottoming out, and also collisions. On Aug. 2, the Mississipi was closed for a day, after a barge tow, carrying fertilizer and salt, grounded near Greenville, Miss. Navigation was re-opened Aug. 3.

- Tributaries Running Dry; Army Corps Stiffed -

In the Missouri Basin, which joins the Mississippi, one stretch of the Platte River from Columbus, Missouri to Kearney, Nebraska, has dried up for 100 miles.

Navigation on the Ouachita River, which flows from Arkansas into Louisiana, into the Red River and thence to the Mississippi, is threatened directly because of the Obama Administration's budget cuts to the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps needs a barebones yearly budget of about $10.6 mil for operations and dredging, but that was cut down to $7.5 mil in 2011, in 2012, and projected for 2013. This week, the Corps began reduced service on its locks, cutting down from 24 hours to 18 hours at the two Louisiana locks, and 24 down to 16 on the two Arkansas locks. LPAC activist Fred Huenefeld, in Louisiana, has raised a months-long fight about this, in conjunction with his spearheading of support for Glass-Steagall in the state. He reports that cargo is piling up. Congress originally authorized the navigation locks to operate 24/7 365, and Obama cut it down. There are similar situations in all watersheds.

Nevertheless, the Agriculture Department issued a press release yesterday, praising Obama for "establishing the first-ever White House Rural Council — chaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; the President is committed to a smarter use of existing Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepeneurs and working families in rural communities."