The barge industry is still pressing for U.S. government help from the Missouri River, which feeds into the Mississippi at St. Louis. The agency cut the flow of the Missouri into the Mississippi in November and has rebuffed the industry's pleas that the flow from a South Dakota dam be restored, saying the pullback was needed to protect interests on the upper Missouri.
Barge operators hope that if the corps can keep the Mississippi passable for the next month or so, spring rains, snow melt and the back-to-normal release from the Missouri could raise the Mississippi, erasing any lingering worries about shipping.
Shipping groups have warned that if the waterway there were to drop to a point in which barge weight restrictions were further tightened, shipping would effectively stop. Drafts, or the portion of each barge that is submerged, already are limited to 9 feet in the middle Mississippi, down from 12 feet. Trade group officials say that if drafts are restricted to 8 feet or lower, many operators will stop shipping.
While lessening cargo weight helps barges ride higher, shipping costs increase because more barges are required to move the cargo and tow boats go through more fuel because more trips become necessary.