Posted: Oct 17, 2011 5:59 PM by Stephanie Ryan
Updated: Oct 17, 2011 7:08 PM
BATON ROUGE-- The Mississippi River is nearly 20 feet below flood stage, in stark contrast with the swollen behemoth it was in May-- nearly ten feet above flood stage.
That's because a drought in the mid west means land north of Baton Rouge has soaked up much of the water that would have flown to Baton Rouge.
The Army Corps of Engineers is dredging the river to maintain a channel between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is 45 feet deep and 500 feet wide, but funding cuts could mean the channel ends up half as wide as it normally is.
Federal grant money for dredging runs out at the end of October. By that time, Michelle Spraul with the Army Corps of Engineers said the dredging may not be entirely finished, which could mean river traffic ends up one-way between the two cities. There could also be a reduced draft of vehicles.
Barges are already having to carry less in the area to account for the low water, which means it's more costly to use the river. Z. David Deloach with Deloach Marine expects a slight rise in the price of steel, for example. He said it also means the U.S. could be less competitive in world markets for things like grain.
"Every bushel that we sell, if it costs more money to sell it, we're competing against [other countries]. If theirs is cheaper than ours, they'll buy the other country's goods, rather than ours," Deloach said.
The river is not as low as Deloach has seen it at times, but he still hopes for rain north of Baton Rouge, so he doesn't have to deal with river levels lower than they are.