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Mississippi River levels at 10-year low in Baton Rouge, bringing problems and opportunities

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BATON ROUGE - The historically low Mississippi River levels in Baton Rouge have brought residents some entertainment.

The receding water uncovering a 19th century shipwreck, that has people flocking to the levee downtown for a glimpse of history and allowing for some much needed inspections to be done on the USS Kidd.

But the 10-year low brings with it some potentially big problems as well.

"In the past month or couple months there's just been historically low rainfall amounts throughout the basin," Dr. Clint Willson, the director of the LSU Center for River Studies, said.

Widely used crops are stuck in the Midwest, as barges can't safely make it down the river in some spots.

"They can't either put as much on each barge or they have to put less barges in the grouping, so what that means is there's soy and grain sitting in the Midwest waiting to get on barges."

At the mouth of the river in New Orleans, salt water from the Gulf is threatening the fresh water supply that is used for the city's drinking water and to power certain industrial facilities.

However, Dr. Willson says Baton Rouge is located in a fortunate position--far enough away from the Gulf to avoid any salt water intrusion and, for now, still able to receive shipments from up north.

"One of the big differences between the Mississippi River from the Gulf to Baton Rouge is that the Corp of Engineers maintains a 45-50 foot navigation channel. So the deep-water navigation ships the vessels, can move up and down. They can get to Exxon Mobil refinery or the port of Baton Rouge. Once you get above Baton Rouge, the channel is significantly deeper."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is dredging the Mississippi in several spots to keep river commerce flowing.

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