sunny.png
Saturday January 28th, 2023 5:22PM

Drought snarls Mississippi River transit in blow to farmers

By The Associated Press

ALONG THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER (AP) — Adam Thomas starts harvesting soybeans on his Illinois farm when the dew burns off in the morning. This year, dry weather accelerated the work, allowing him to start early. His problem was getting the soybeans to market.

About 60% of the Midwest and northern Great Plain states are in a drought. Nearly the entire stretch of the Mississippi River — from Minnesota to the river’s mouth in Louisiana — has experienced below average rainfall over the past two months. As a result, water levels on the river have dropped to near-record lows, disrupting ship and barge traffic that is critical for moving recently harvested agricultural goods such as soybeans and corn downriver for export.

Although scientists say climate change is raising temperatures and making droughts more common and intense, a weather expert says this latest drought affecting the central United States is more likely a short-term weather phenomenon.

The lack of rain has seriously affected commerce. The river moves more than half of all U.S. grain exports but the drought has reduced the flow of goods by about 45%, according to industry estimates cited by the federal government. Prices for rail shipments, an alternative for sending goods by barge, are also up.

“It just means lower income, basically," said Mike Doherty, a senior economist with the Illinois Farm Bureau.

Thomas farms at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and doesn’t own enough grain storage to wait out the high costs of shipping.

“I’ve had to take a price discount,” he said.

Climate change is generally driving wetter conditions in the Upper Mississippi River region but in recent months, lower water levels have revealed parts that are usually inaccessible. Thousands of visitors last weekend walked across typically submerged riverbed to Tower Rock, a protruding formation about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast of St. Louis. It’s the first time since 2012 that tourists could make the trek and stay dry. On the border of Tennessee and Missouri where the river is a half-mile wide, four-wheeler tracks snake across vast stretches of exposed riverbed.

In a badly needed break from the dry weather earlier this week, the region finally received some rain.

“It is kind of taking the edge off the pain of the low water, but it is not going to completely alleviate it,” said Kai Roth of the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, adding that the river needs several rounds of “good, soaking rain.”

Barges are at risk of hitting bottom and getting stuck in the mud. Earlier this month, the U.S. Coast Guard said there had been at least eight such “groundings.” Some barges touch the bottom but don't get stuck. Others need salvage companies to help them out. Barges are cautioned to lighten their loads to prevent them from sinking too deep in the water, but that means they can carry fewer goods.

To ensure that vessels can travel safely, federal officials regularly meet, consider the depth of the river and talk to the shipping industry to determine local closures and traffic restrictions. When a stretch is temporarily closed, hundreds of barges may line up to wait.

“It’s very dynamic: Things are changing constantly,” said Eric Carrero, the Coast Guard's director of western rivers and waterways. “Every day, when we are doing our surveys, we’re finding areas that are shallow and they need to dredge.”

After a closed-down section is dredged, officials mark a safe channel and barges can once again pass through.

In some places, storage at barge terminals is filling up, preventing more goods from coming in, according to Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. He said the influx of grain into a compromised river transportation system is like “attaching a garden hose to a fire hydrant.” High costs for farmers have led some to wait to ship their goods, he added.

For tourists, much of the river is still accessible. Cruise ships are built to withstand the river’s extremes: Big engines fight fast currents in the spring and shallow drafts keep the boats moving in a drought, said Charles Robertson, president and CEO of American Cruise Lines, which operates five cruise ships that can carry 150 to 190 passengers each.

Nighttime operations are limited, however, to help ships avoid new obstacles that the drought has exposed. And some landing areas aren’t accessible because of low water — the river is dried out along the edges. In Vicksburg, Mississippi, a cruise ship couldn’t get to a ramp that typically loads passengers, so the city, with help from townspeople, laid gravel and plywood to create a makeshift walkway. For some, it adds to the adventure.

“They’re experiencing the headlines that most of the rest of the country is reading,” Robertson said.

Drought is a prolonged problem in California, which just recorded its driest three-year stretch on record, a situation that has stressed water supplies and increased wildfire risk. Climate change is raising temperatures and making droughts more common and worse.

“The drier areas are going to continue to get drier and the wetter areas are going to continue to get wetter,” said Jen Brady, a data analyst at Climate Central, a nonprofit group of scientists and researchers that reports on climate change.

Brad Pugh, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said however, that the current drought in the Midwest is likely “driven by short-term weather patterns" and he wouldn't link it to climate change.

In the Midwest, climate change is increasing the intensity of some rainstorms. Flood severity on the upper Mississippi River is growing faster than any other area of the country, according to NOAA.

Some worry that fertilizer and manure have accumulated on farms and could quickly wash off in a hard rain, reducing oxygen levels in rivers and streams and threatening aquatic life.

In rare cases, communities are moving to alternate sources of drinking water away from the Mississippi. The drought also is threatening to dry out drinking-water wells in Iowa and Nebraska, NOAA says.

It’s unclear how much longer the drought will last. In the near term, there is a chance for rain, but NOAA notes that in November, below average rainfall is more likely in central states such as Missouri, which would extend shipping problems on the river. In some northern states including Michigan, the winter may bring more moisture, but less rain is expected in southern states.

“It does take a lot of rainfall to really get the river to rise,” Roth said.

___

The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Business, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Agriculture
© Copyright 2023 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Drought snarls Mississippi River transit in blow to farmers
Nearly the entire stretch of the Mississippi River has experienced below average rainfall over the past two months, reducing water levels on the river to near record lows
10:04AM ( 3 minutes ago )
World Cup jerseys get mixed reviews ahead of Qatar
Millions are at stake in retail sales for this year’s World Cup in Qatar and soccer fans have been playing rate the shirt
9:56AM ( 12 minutes ago )
Spain's state prosecutor drops charges against Neymar
Spain’s state prosecutor has dropped its charges against Neymar but a Brazilian company involved in the case will continue to fight the soccer player in court
9:54AM ( 13 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Musk in control of Twitter but where will he go from here?
Elon Musk has taken control of Twitter after a protracted legal battle and months of uncertainty
9:15AM ( 52 minutes ago )
Miami Beach condo building evacuated near deadly collapse
An evacuation order has forced out residents of a 14-story oceanfront building in Miami Beach, on the same avenue where a condominium collapse in Surfside killed nearly 100 people last year
8:51AM ( 1 hour ago )
Massive learning setbacks show COVID's sweeping toll on kids
The COVID-19 pandemic that shuttered classrooms set back learning in some U.S. school systems by more than a year, with children in high-poverty areas affected the most, according to a district-by-district analysis of test scores shared exclusively with The Associated Press
8:50AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Ukraine: Blackouts back in Kyiv as war takes multiple fronts
Ukrainian authorities have announced further rolling blackouts in and around the country’s largest cities amid ongoing Russian strikes targeting energy infrastructure
9:20AM ( 48 minutes ago )
US futures lower on the dawn of Elon Musk era at Twitter
Wall Street pointed toward declines before markets opened Friday, but most major U.S. indices were still on track for rare back-to-back weekly gains, as an awful week for technology companies comes to a close and the Elon Musk era at Twitter begins
8:49AM ( 1 hour ago )
Germany sees unexpected growth in 3rd quarter; inflation up
The German economy grew in the third quarter, an unexpectedly positive performance powered largely by private spending
8:29AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
UN nuclear agency to probe Russia claim of `dirty bombs'
The U_N_ nuclear chief says he is sending inspectors to two locations in Ukraine where Russia alleged that activities related to the possible production of “dirty bombs” was taking place and expects them to reach a conclusion “in days -- very fast.”
8:17PM ( 13 hours ago )
Ukraine attacks Russia's hold on southern city of Kherson
Ukrainian forces are attacking Russia’s hold on the southern city of Kherson while fighting intensifies in the country’s east
5:41PM ( 16 hours ago )
Crisis-stricken Cuba caught between ally Russia, nearby U.S.
Hurricane Ian caused an island-wide blackout when it tore through western Cuba in late September
2:55PM ( 19 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
Zimbabwe's focus on wheat set to yield biggest-ever harvest
Zimbabwe says it's on the brink of its biggest wheat harvest in history, thanks in large part to efforts to overcome food supply problems caused by the war in Ukraine
2:35AM ( 2 days ago )
West Africa floods destroy crops, worsening hunger fears
West and Central African countries are battling deadly floods that have upended lives and livelihoods, raising fears of further disruption of food supplies in many areas battling armed conflict
3:16AM ( 6 days ago )
New Zealand farmers hit streets to protest cow-burp tax plan
Farmers across New Zealand have taken to the streets in their tractors to protest government plans to tax cow burps and other greenhouse gas emissions, although the rallies were smaller than expected
11:37PM ( 1 week ago )
AP Business - Agriculture
World Cup jerseys get mixed reviews ahead of Qatar
Millions are at stake in retail sales for this year’s World Cup in Qatar and soccer fans have been playing rate the shirt
9:56AM ( 12 minutes ago )
Spain's state prosecutor drops charges against Neymar
Spain’s state prosecutor has dropped its charges against Neymar but a Brazilian company involved in the case will continue to fight the soccer player in court
9:54AM ( 13 minutes ago )
Stocks open higher, on track for 2nd weekly gain in a row
Most stocks are rising on Wall Street Friday, led by Apple, Exxon Mobil and other companies that made even bigger profits during the summer than expected
9:53AM ( 14 minutes ago )
Blaney crew chief returns in time for critical playoff race
Ryan Blaney will get his crew chief back for the most important weekend of his NASCAR season after an untimely suspension
9:48AM ( 20 minutes ago )
Barack Obama gets a midterm do-over to help boost Democrats
Barack Obama is trying to do something he couldn’t during two terms as president: help Democrats succeed in national midterm elections when they already hold the White House
9:39AM ( 28 minutes ago )