Mississippi River low water blocks barges--railroads benefit grain harvest


Low water in the Mississippi River especially near Memphis are slowing barge traffic. That traffic would usually be transporting grain to New Orleans for export.

Low water reduces the weight barges can carry and narrows the channels reducing number of barges allowed in a tow.

Some barges had to wait, but with additional dredges they are moving again but not at normal rates.

The low water will cause more grain to move to market by truck or rail. North-south railroads should benefit. Most likely CN, UP and BNSF.


If physics, gravity, and costs weren’t enough, I guess this kind of kills the idea of “let’s pump Mississippi water over to the Southwest to relieve the drought.”

Yep. The Mississippi watershed is huge from the Rockies to the Appalachians for much of the country. It has been a bit dry in my area recently. Worst in southwest Missouri they say.

The really big storms have mostly gone south of us. Maybe feeds the river south of Memphis.

Floods are usually the concern in the St. Louis area. Some years much worse than others. Some flooding this year but didn’t last long. Weather continues to be unpredictable.

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Used to work on a tow boat as a teenager for college money. We hauled petroleum products rather than grain. Glad I finally grew up.

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Barges and the intracostal waterway system is low cost transportation for many commodities. It benefits most of the US east of the Mississippi (with some western branches–Missouri River maybe as far as Omaha).

In St. Louis, they tell us they can ship products like gravel to New Orleans for about what it costs to send a truck load to the next county.

Cargill is famous for sending grain down river and filling barges with Louisiana salt for the return trip. Chemicals like methanol also move by barge. Probably coal. Its economical and big business.

There are plans to upgrade some of the locks. Only one on the Mississippi has hydroelectric capacity. They are talking about adding hydro to the lock just north of St. Louis at Alton.


Except that rivers don’t store water so whether you take water out when it is flooding is not going to hurt or help the river later in the year.


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Not sure I understand your point. If a plan to draw water off the Mississippi were to happen (unlikely), it would happen nearly 100% of the time when drought conditions occur, as has happened the last many years in a row.

To make a big enough dent in the drought in the Southwest, the scheme would have to draw enormous quantities of water (also unlikely), and that would lower the level of the Mississippi by a consequent amount.

Last, it would seem to make sense that the most feasible route would be to start where the land is highest (somewhere close to the Great Lakes, probably) to use the advantage that gravity affords as you try to ship such immense quantities south and west. So any water siphoned out would necessarily lower the river level all the way down to the mouth of the Mississippi, I would think. No?

The western branch of the Mississippi River system goes all the way to the Rockies. Lewis and Clark followed the Missouri River to Montana. And there may be others like the Arkansas River. They are fed by melting snow in the mountains. So i think you would pump from them high in the Rockies and store the water in the dams along the route. I’m not sure where the upper Mississippi gets its water. I would assume from springs. Maybe from northern snow melt.

Corps of Engineers would have to review all the data and make recommendation before massive construction begins. I agree expensive. But the alternative is desalination. Also expensive. People who want to live in a desert have to be prepared to pay for water.

Goofy this is my thoughts and I am not going to be the one to figure this out. I am not saying it is possible but it would be nice to have a study done to see if it’s feasible.

First of all, Rivers are always flowing so they do not store water like a dam, lake, or locks. So to say because at the end of the year, because the river is down, that it is not right to take water out of the river, is really not the correct argument, in my mind.

We all know the Mississippi floods, when it does many towns along it get flooded out. What I propose is to build catch basins/ lakes along the Mississippi where it is prone to flood and push the water into those catch basins or lakes to store that water. Than the water could be piped from those lakes, it wouldn’t have to be very large pipes to handle the volume (Just pipes like the ones they use for the Alaskan pipeline) because you could pump the volume as you see fit. I suggest that it might not be best to think that it would be best to have the pipes go across the northern Rockies due to gravity but it might be best to take it down to New Mexico where the Rockies are only 4000 feet high(give or take) or maybe they could find a spot where it would be best to bore under the Rockies. That would have to be something that would have to be determined. But my point is that the water would only be taken from flood waters. No other water would be taken from the river, so when there is a drought, the river would not be affected. (I know this would have to be monitored and has many flaws).

Right desalination is expensive. California just nixed a plan to desalinate and move water from the ocean to Salton Sea. A much easier plan than the one I am proposing.

Right, just like people who live by the Ocean should be prepared to pay more for their infrastructure and housing, like People in Tornado Alley should be prepared to pay more for living in a Tornado prone area, like people who live in areas that flood should be willing to pay more for cleaning up their areas. Only they don’t.
We keep bailing them out year after year. But I do agree that once the cost is determined we will have to come to an agreement on how it will be paid for.

After studying this, I think it is a pipe dream, but I still like to ponder it. I didn’t realize that in the 1940’s a representative in Arizona went over to Saudia Arabia and showed them how to grow alfalfa and other plants. This happened to drain the Saudia aquifers , so they decided to come to Arizona and lease land to grow alfalfa. To this day they still are growing alfalfa.

So there are many things the Southwest can do to cut down on water consumption. But the rest of the United States is not going to like it.13 percent of agriculture is grown in California, California takes alot of the water out of the Colorado. If it came down to it and those farms have to shutter, how much will that cause prices in the Grocery store to go up?

Colorado River cuts set to disrupt farming in Western states | PBS NewsHour.

So right now they are trying to keep the agriculture going but when Lake Mead gets low enough even that will be cut drastically. When water can no longer go over the dam they call that a dead pool and the only people that will be able to access it will be Nevada, because they had the foresight to build a pipe line to the very lowest point in the lake, They actually burrowed under the lake and put in a drain, All paid for by the taxpayers in Southern Nevada.


I realize this probably will never come to fruition but hey, You have to have your dreams.



These dams already exist. The Mississippi gets much larger after the Missouri River flows in just north of St. Louis at Alton, IL. From there north locks are used to raise and lower barges to allow navigation to Minnesota. The lock at Alton, IL creates Alton Lake a huge thing used for water skiing and boating. Just now they are proposing to add hydropower to the dam at Alton. I think there are two more of these in Missouri. The one at Keokuk IA is the only one with hydropower at present. It is run by Ameren, the St. Louis electric utility.

You should take a river cruise on the Mississippi. If you drive north on MO-79 from St. Louis to Hannibal, you will see high limestone bluffs on the Missouri side. So the dams you suggest would flood Illinois farmland. Some of the most valuable farm land in the US. $14K/acre and up. Haywool here lives over there.

You are talking about a pipeline thousands of miles long. If you take the water high in the mountains, you only have to pump it over the continental divide. Gravity will take it from there. If in the Colorado watershed it should be fine.

The railroads faced all these elevation issues and drilled tunnels. Yes, the southern route used by Southern Pacific was chosen for less elevation and less concern about winter snows. But that’s a long way from a water source. Maybe 2000 miles of pipeline.

And pipeline is probably too small. I think LA mostly uses aquaducts to provide the volumes needed.

Agreed all this must be studied before decisions can be made. If ever all parties can come to agreement. Getting some to give up their rights will not be easy. Unless govt buys those rights.


Right Paul, but if we use those dams and locks than I would have to agree with Goofy. The idea is not to use those dams and locks because they need them to control water on the Mississippi. What I am proposing is using other storage basins that could take excess flood waters out of the system.

Mississippi River floods of 2019 - Wikipedia.

Yes LA does use aquaducts but I am not sure why the pipeline would be to small. Since the water would be in catch basins you could pump the water at your leisure.

Right but even buying the rights it still wouldn’t be easy to get this project done because of all the people that would be worried about their water rights in the region.


We’re already doing that but from west to east. Denver, east of the Continental Divide gets 50% of its water from west of the Divide.