Mississippi River's depth lowest in years
BATON ROUGE - At a depth of 6.4 feet, the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge is the lowest it's been in years, and it's much worse further north.
The river's center channel between Baton Rouge and the mouth of the Mississippi River is much deeper, though, ranging between 44 and 47 feet. That's still enough for deep draft vessels to navigate through.
Dredges continue to monitor and flush out areas where the channel crosses from one side of the river to the other. Sediment buildup can temporarily shut down the river, especially north of Baton Rouge where channel depths are as shallow as nine feet.
Z. David Deloach, owner of Deloach Marine Services, said the number of barges that tugs push up or down the river has been nearly cut in half because of the river's depth.
"We can't get anything up the river that's deeper than nine foot. When you start reducing the capacity of the tow by 50 percent, you have an extreme effect on the economics of being able to move those barges efficiently," Deloach said.
Extreme drought in the Midwest and a mild winter add to the problem. Low water means tougher navigation, which leads to less products being able to be shipped all at once.
The Port of Greater Baton Rouge isn't quite as concerned since the river's depth is much deeper near the port. Low water has helped construction at the port allowing crews to build in areas usually under water, but nonetheless, port officials continue to keep a close eye on the river.
"I think over an extended period of time maybe because of the drought but also limited snowfall, we could see some restrictions in movement further north that could hinge upon some cargoes here," Jay Hardman said.
The ten day National Weather Service forecast has the river going down to 5.4 feet by Sunday. This time last year, the Mississippi River was nearly 22 feet deeper in the aftermath of record-breaking flooding along the river.