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Low Water Hampers Traffic Along Mississippi River With AM-Drought, Bjt

June 15, 1988

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) _ About 750 barges were stranded Wednesday on the Mississippi River because of low water, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said that twice as many could be stranded by the weekend.

The low water has forced barges to operate only during daylight hours and to lighten their loads, said Jeffrey Smith, vice president of the American Waterways Operators in Arlington, Va.

″Low water - since the days of Mark Twain - has been an occupational hazard, and they know how to deal with it. Things are somewhat restricted, but cargo is still moving,″ Smith said Wednesday.

Mississippi River barges carry such cargo as grain, petroleum, chemicals, iron and steel, he said.

The barges began backing up after one ran aground Monday and large barges decided to wait for a dredge to arrive Thursday to deepen the channel.

The river is only 9 feet deep near Vaucluse Landing, Ark., about 3 miles north of the Greenville, Miss. bridge.

″They are skittish about using it because one mess-up costs lots of dollars,″ said Michael Logue, spokesman for the corps’ Vicksburg District.

Ron Goldman, the district’s chief of water control management, said the Mississippi is at its lowest point for this time of year since records were first kept in 1872.

The Vicksburg gauge read 2.5 feet on Tuesday, he said. The lowest level on record is minus 7 feet in February 1940, when much of the upper river froze. Without significant rainfall, the river will fall below zero on the Vicksburg gauge within two weeks, Goldman said, with zero on the gauge representing 46.2 feet above mean sea level.

Louis Logue, the district’s chief of river operations, said the river is expected to keep falling and other problem sites could develop.

″I’m talking seriously with the Lord about this now,″ he said. ″Up until now I’ve just been talking regularly.″

Logue said barges and tows generally require 9 to 10 feet of water. Each barge carries an average cargo of 1,000 tons.

Bob Gardner, vice president of ContiCarriers in Chicago, said the low water was also creating bottlenecks near Memphis and Cairo, Ill.

″The low water is definitely causing us some disruptions on the lower Mississippi,″ said Gardner, a former Mississippi River captain.

He said his company has reduced the number of barges to a maximum of 20 per tow and some lines are running only in daylight hours.