The heavy rain and flooding in the Upper Mississippi River this spring has created another problem for the river: shoaling. Shoaling is the result of sediment settling in the river, mainly in channels near locks, causing the water levels there to become shallow. This can create sandbars that would be dangerous for barges to navigate and they could become stuck. Barges need at least a 9-foot draft to navigate safely and when shoaling occurs, the Army Corps of Engineers needs to dredge the area, closing all traffic on either side of the area.
The USACE St. Paul District reported significant shoaling between Wabasha, Minn., and Alma, Wis. A portion of Pool 4, (a pool is the area between navigation dams) located between Wabasha and Alma, was closed to commercial navigation July 19. An area of Pool 6 near Winona closed on July 23 after a vessel ran aground near Blacksmith Slough by mile marker 719.2. The Corps reported that 17 vessels along with 120 loaded barges and 32 empty containers have been stalled by the dredging.
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The Corps said they are still dredging the 9-foot navigation channel between Wabasha, Minn., and Alma, Wis., in Pool 4 and estimates completing a 200-foot wide pilot channel Aug. 10. The channel in Pool 4 was first closed July 19 at River Mile 754 due to shallow conditions. The channel also remains closed to commercial navigation in Pool 6, near Winona, Minn., and the Corps estimates completing a 200-foot wide pilot channel Aug. 8. The Corps reported that several locations have current depths less than 9 feet extending across the entire navigation channel.
The Corps said that they have two government dredging operations, the Dredge Goetz and a mechanical dredging crew, along with two contract mechanical dredging operations currently working to remove the dredged material from the channel. They also have two channel survey boats operating throughout the St. Paul District to monitor other areas within the river as well as supporting dredging operations. The Corps stated that, "The survey results will be evaluated and prioritized based on dredging needs."
With barges unable to move up or down river from the Minneapolis-St. Paul district to Winona, cash basis levels for corn and soybeans have been negatively affected all week. Terminals above the closure cannot receive any more empties to load out grain and some have very little bin space to hold grain. One elevator in the St. Paul District sent out this notice to their customers on July 29: "Due to (lack of) barge availability in the cities, we will be shut down for corn receipts until further notice."
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