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Corps warns of dredging on falling river without a permit

MISSISSIPPI RIVER — The Vicksburg District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports it is working to hard to keep low water levels from closing commercial navigation on the rivers in its 68,000 square mile area of responsibility.

According to the National Weather Service this year’s drought is affecting nearly 61 percent of the country and is causing problems for commercial traffic on the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

As part of its efforts to keep navigation open the Vicksburg District is operating four dredges. This includes the Corps’ Dredge Jadwin and three other contracted dredges. This unusually high amount of dredging is necessary due to the large quantity of silt that was deposited on the harbor and riverbeds during the historic flood of 2011 and has subsequently affected channel depths.

The funding for the dredging was provided by the Disaster Appropriations Relief Act of 2012 as part of the effort to restore and repair the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MR&T) system following last year’s flood. The Vicksburg District received an additional $20.5 million for dredging operations and $77 million for channel improvements and stabilization from the Disaster Appropriations Relief Act. The Corps reports the additional dredging has proven vital as the District aggressively works to keep the ports and rivers in its area of responsibility open to commercial navigation as long as possible despite the low water levels. Unfortunately, unless drought conditions subside and an adequate amount of rain occurs to raise water levels in the river the District’s efforts will be overcome by the lack of rainfall.

During the historic flood of 2011 the river gauge at Vicksburg reached 57.1 feet with a flow of 2.31 million cubic feet per second (CFS) passing under the bridge. On July 12, 2012, the gauge was at 4.9 feet with a flow of 247,000 CFS.

The last severe drought to hit the region was in 1988 when the gauge dipped as low as -1.6 feet with a flow of 138,000 CFS. The record low occurred on Feb. 3, 1940, when the gauge was at negative -7 feet with a flow of 108,000 CFS.

In a related item, owners of docks, terminals and boat launches still need permits if they do work to offset low Mississippi River levels, the Corps says.

Officials urge landowners and facility operators to check if they need a permit.

Steve Nail, president and CEO of Farmers Grain Terminal in Greenville, says barges must be light enough to float in water 9 feet deep. That means they can be loaded only 75 percent to 85 percent full, Nail says in a statement from Mississippi’s Delta Council.

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