Cash Market Moves

High Water Levels Still Affecting Shipping Traffic on Rivers From Central US to Gulf

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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Ships like this one pictured loading upriver from the Gulf of Mexico will face restrictions as they head south to Baton Rouge due to flooding. This ship was loading soybeans at ADM at Destrehan, Louisiana, in late March. (DTN photo by Mary Kennedy)

Substantial rains last week in the central Plains and central Midwest have caused rivers throughout the central U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico to swell, resulting in more barge traffic delays, according to Tom Russell, Russell Marine Group.

"The Illinois River is at or near flood stage and traffic is moving slowly, and tow sizes have been reduced," Russell said.

In addition to the Illinois River, sections of the Mid to Lower Mississippi River (LMR) are also dealing with high water levels. The Mississippi River in Baton Rouge is expected to crest at its highest level in six years on Tuesday, May 30, hitting 41 feet. The last time the river crested at 41 feet or higher there was in 2011 when it crested at 45 feet. Major flood stage is 40 feet.

The National Weather Service issued this flood warning for Baton Rouge as of Thursday, May 25: "Major flooding is occurring and major flooding is forecast. At 36.0 feet... river traffic and industrial activity on the river side of the levees will be greatly affected. Navigational safety regulations will be strictly enforced."

Barge lines report that extremely high-water operating conditions exist on the Lower Mississippi River and that daylight-only transits exist in certain areas.

Basis levels at river terminals are mixed, depending on the severity of the flooding. Barge freight has risen in the Mid-Mississippi River (MMR) as shippers scramble to find station barges -- barges for their specific facilities -- to beat possible high-water closures. Freight shippers, mainly on the MMR and Illinois River are having trouble finding barges at certain locations because several of the bigger suppliers are running behind due to slowdowns over the past few weeks because of high water, according to freight brokers.

Russell told me, "Upper Mississippi from St. Louis to Cairo is above flood stage, and traffic is moving with safety protocols in place. Tow sizes have been reduced by five to 10 barges and restricted to daylight transit only. The Lower Mississippi River from Cairo to New Orleans is at or near flood stage, and tow sizes are reduced and in some areas, are restricted to daylight transit only."

"Baton Rouge and New Orleans Harbors are in high water and rising," said Russell. "Baton Rouge will crest above flood stage, and New Orleans will crest near flood stage by month end. Both barge and ocean vessel traffic is moving, but safety protocols will be in place at least into June. Safety protocols include daylight-only berthing operations for midstream locations. Extra tug power is required in barge fleets and mooring vessels."

"The high and fast river flow is causing silting at some harbor crossings and Southwest Pass (SWP). The Bar Pilots have implemented a daylight-only transit for inbound vessels drawing a draft of 38 feet or more. Dredges will be working in SWP to clear silting. Extra time will be needed to execute cargo operations during the high-water period," added Russell.


While the Arkansas River reopened after the disastrous flooding a few weeks ago, it is still at flood stage. Several locks were closed earlier this week, and only limited barge movement had been allowed. Arkansas has still been getting inundated by rain, and farmers told me that replanting rice and other crops has been a challenge. The Black River was at 17.6 feet on Thursday morning -- flood stage is 14 feet. The Cache River was at 10.2 feet on Thursday morning -- flood stage is 9 feet. The White River was at 26.53 feet -- flood stage is 24 feet.

Joe Christian, secretary and treasurer of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, farms 3,500 acres, about half of it rice and the rest soybeans and corn. He told me, "The water is finally off my crops. I may be able to save some of my rice but haven't done any field work in a month. It has rained every other day this week, but 40 miles from me, they have been working and getting crops in. I don't have a bean planted or replanted; it's tough right now."

Andy Jett who farms 2,500 acres of rice and soybeans in Clay County, Arkansas, and Ripley County, Missouri, near Success, Arkansas, had this to say: "We finally got all our rice replanted middle of last week and our levees redone towards end of last week. It's been too wet here this week to do anything, so we've been servicing our irrigation motors that got under water and trying to find the fuel tanks that floated off. We will start planting beans when it dries up."

Relief may be slow in coming along the U.S. river system. "The weather pattern of rains/storms across the central Plains, south, and center Midwest are forecast to continue," Russell said early in the week. "That pattern will likely keep most of the rivers in the system fully charged in to the first week of June. Expect and plan for delays."

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