Skip to comments.The Mighty Mississippi to Run Dry?
Posted on 08/06/2012 10:47:43 PM PDT by Aquamarine
If the worlds largest navigable river system goes dry, the economic consequences will be felt around the world.
What is the single greatest reason America is so wealthy? According to the analysts at Stratfor, it is because of a river.
They have to be joking, right?
What about Americas vast gold resources? What about its mountains of coal? America is the worlds third-largest oil producersurely that is why. Then there is Americas temperate climate and fertile soils that traditionally make it the worlds breadbasket. And dont forget Americas human capital, Yankee ingenuity, and Protestant work ethic. Surely these factors are cumulatively more important than a river.
Not according to one of Americas premier think tanks. Many countries have large natural resources and hospitable climates, but dont even come close to having Americas wealth. What sets America apart from the rest of the world is the Mississippi River basin. It is what makes exploiting Americas resources economically possible.
But now, due to the worst drought since the 1950s, the Mississippi may be about to go dry.
In Memphis and Vicksburg, the shrinking river is obvious: slower river, exposed river banks, and more sandbars. The water is down more than 13 and 20 feet in each city respectively. The Mississippi on average is about 13 feet below normaland a whopping 55 feet below where it was at this time last year. On some stretches, the water level is perilously low. On July 17 it was reported that a 100-mile stretch of the Platte River in Omaha, Nebraska, had dried up.
In fact, water levels are now so low that barge operators are no longer able to operate at full capacity and have to shed both weight and number of towed barges.
For each one-inch loss of water, the standard barge must unload 17 tons of cargothat is a loss of 204 tons, per barge, for every one-foot loss. A typical tow on the upper Mississippi river may have 15 barges. A one-foot loss of water translates into a loss of 3,000 tons of capacity. Tows on the lower Mississippi River may have up to 45 barges, resulting in a loss of capacity of over 9,000 tons. Tom Allegretti, president of the American Waterways Operators, reports that it would take 130 semitrucks or 570 rail cars to haul the freight unloaded by one large barge grouping under those conditions.
Almost 600 rail cars just to make up for the loss of one string of barges. There are thousands and thousands of barge strings that ply the Mississippi each year. The shutdown of the Mississippi would be an absolute catastrophe!
Already, the cost to ship bulk goods is rising. As the weight that can be put on barges shrinks, the cost per unit weight is rising. And that translates into higher costs on the consumers end. Products that are already only marginally profitable may not be economic at these higher transport costs.
The last time the Mississippi shut down due to low water was in 1988. Then just a small section of the river became unnavigablebut it cost the shipping industry $1 billion.
If the Mississippi shut down today, sources quoted by nbc estimate that the direct costs to the economy would be a massive $300 million per daya cost that would skyrocket exponentially if the river did not reopen after more than a few days!
We are still a few feet of water away from that, but the summer isnt over either.
1988 is the only time in recent memory that can compare with this summer, says Lynn Muench, senior vice president of American Waterways Operators. For the last two or three weeks, the phrase I keep hearing is, Close to 1988. Worse than 1988. Same as 1988, she says. Theres a real possibility that itll be worse this year.
Making matters worse for barge traffic, last years record flood stirred up debris and changed the location of underwater obstructions. The Army Corps of Engineers is working like crazy to dredge shallow areas and mark dangers.
But still, the number of barges going aground is rising. Shipping lanes are narrowing. And traffic is slowing. On Wednesday, a barge grounded in Minnesota. It took 24 hours to clear it, and another day to dredge the channel before other barge-trains could pass. The same day, another barge got stuck in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It took about a day to get traffic moving there again. cbs News says barge traffic is getting hung up all up and down the Mississippi, even in areas that normally dont have any problem.
Americas Mississippi River system is an absolute jewel that America cannot afford to loseno matter how short the duration.
The Mississippi River, in conjunction with Missouri, Red, Arkansas and Ohio rivers, comprises the largest interconnected network of navigable rivers in the world. Stratfor calls the Greater Mississippi river network the circulatory system of the Midwest. It is what opens up one third of America to the world. Even without the addition of canals, it is possible for ships from anywhere in the world to reach nearly any part of the Midwest. With the addition of canals, goods can now be transported from the Great Lakes in the north to New Orleans in the south.
And this fantastic water highway just happens to sit astride the most fertile crop-growing region in the world.
It is hard to overstate the economic implications of this overlap. The geography of most nations requires their governments to devote scarce resources to lay endless rail and road to build the transport capacity that was gifted to America at no expense. And water transport costs a fraction of moving goods by road and rail.
The Mississippi River network virtually guaranteed that America would be rich.
But the Mississippi blessing may now be turning into a curse. Everybody is aware that America is in the midst of an epic drought. Contingency plans are being made for reduced corn, soybean and wheat crops. America has experienced droughts before. Markets are prepared for this reality, although they may be underestimating the global consequences of the drought.
America is now critically reliant upon the uninterrupted functioning of this vast intercontinental transport network. The drying up of the Mississippieven for as short a period as a weekwould be a huge, unexpected blow to this nation, never mind the global economy. And it is one that America and the world can ill afford at this time.
Guess someone pulled a giant plug in the atmosphere allowing all the moisture content to leak out? Same amount of water today as we had at the beginning, half-wit.
Texas got rain, they will too.
In the spring there will be flooding in the Mississippi same as every year.
That Mississippi has had low water before and will have it again.
There is nothing humans can do about it anyway. It is up to God to set the level of the Mississippi.
The real question is how much money will Obama start throwing at it?
Of course, he could just stand on the banks, stretch out his staff and bring forth the waters.
I clicked on that link and I was blocked for ‘online-gambling’...
Here’s where I’m coming from. If you’ll listen to the reports of drought, you’ll note that they generally say, this is the driest it’s been in fifty years, or something like that.
Okay, that means that fifty years ago, it was worse than it is now.
I know what is happening now is hard on people who live in the region. I’m not trying to say it isn’t. It’s just that I don’t think it’s wise to attribute this to some global meltdown.
Thank you Errant. I’ll check it out.
That’s terrible. It’s amazing the storms that do come up seem to miss you. Sorry to hear it.
I hope it ends soon.
I think their big play was convincing the global cooling folks into switching to be global warming nuts.
Your comments are right on IMO.
That’s pretty much my take too. I’m sure that some of the folks that depend on it are having a hard time. That is a sad thing.
Really? It takes over four railcars to carry the contents of one semi-trailer?
I can't imagine Allegretti got the numbers wrong. So, we're left with an ignorant reporter making a stupid mistake and reversing the numbers.
4 This is what the Lord says to me: I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place, like shimmering heat in the sunshine, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.
5 For, before the harvest, when the blossom is gone and the flower becomes a ripening grape, he will cut off the shoots with pruning knives, and cut down and take away the spreading branches. 6 They will all be left to the mountain birds of prey and to the wild animals; the birds will feed on them all summer, the wild animals all winter.
7 At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord Almighty from a people tall and smooth-skinned, from a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the Lord Almighty.
I've read that the output of the Amazon River is much larger than the next ten largest rivers in the world combined. The Mississippi is just a 'puppy' compared to the Amazon.
I grew up in Baton Rouge....
Avondale Shipyards are near New Orleans, some 100 river miles south of the H. P. Long bridge.
Trust me... deep draft vessels cannot get north of Baton Rouge. Huey Long did that on purpose.
I'm afraid so. :(