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So Long, Farewell, Upper Mississippi River 2018 Shipping Season

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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All is quiet on the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, as the 2018 shipping season has ended until spring 2019. (DTN photo by Mary Kennedy)

The Upper Mississippi River (UMR) shipping season is officially over as tows pushing barges, like flocks of geese, headed south for the winter. It's always bittersweet for those of us living near the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, when the last barge heads south for the winter. When I walk along the river this time of year, it's so quiet and calm, as if it has gone to sleep for the next five months.

However, during the winter season, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) (Corps) doesn't slow down. They keep busy with repairs to various locks that are closed until spring. Corps officials had asked to have all navigation vessels move south of Lock and Dam 6, near Trempealeau, Wisconsin, no later than midnight on Dec. 1, which required vessels near St. Paul, Minnesota, to depart from there no later than Nov. 30. The last tow to depart from St. Paul, Minnesota, was Motor Vessel Thomas E. Erickson, on Nov. 25, according to the USACE, St. Paul District.

Corps engineers began preparations for several winter repairs at numerous locks within the St. Paul District. According to the district website, engineers were scheduled to begin repairs at Lock and Dam 6 on Dec. 2. The locks include Lock and Dam 4, near Alma, Wisconsin; Lock and Dam 5, near Minnesota City, Minnesota; Lock and Dam 5A, near Fountain City, Wisconsin; and Lock and Dam 9, near Lynxville, Wisconsin, with repairs scheduled to begin Dec. 10.

The St. Paul District is where the "Mighty Mississippi River" starts its long journey through the middle of the United States to the Gulf of Mexico. The district borders follow the edges of four river basins -- the Mississippi River, the Red River of the North, the Souris River and the Rainy River -- and covers an area of approximately 139,000 square miles. This area includes most of Minnesota, the western half of Wisconsin, the northeastern half of North Dakota and small portions of northeastern South Dakota and northeastern Iowa. The district also shares approximately 500 miles of border with three Canadian provinces.

The St. Paul District is responsible for supporting inland navigation by operating 13 locks and dams and by maintaining the nine-foot navigation channel.

For now, the river will hibernate until spring when the first tow makes its way through Lake Pepin to signal the beginning of a new shipping season for the UMR. Lake Pepin is a naturally occurring lake and the widest naturally occurring part of the Mississippi River. It is located approximately 60 miles (97 km) downstream from St. Paul, Minnesota. It is a widening of the river on the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.

On Wednesday, April 11, 2018, after cutting through ice on Lake Pepin, the first tow of the season, Motor Vessel Michael Poindexter, pushing 12 barges, locked through Lock and Dam 2, near Hastings, Minnesota, on its way to St. Paul. Her journey there signaled the start of the 2018 navigation season in the St. Paul District.

The last tow this year to depart the St. Paul District through Lock and Dam 10, the district's southernmost lock near Guttenberg, Iowa, was Motor Vessel Titletown U.S.A. She locked through Lock 10, heading southbound Dec. 1, officially closing the 2018 navigation season.

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