Chris Masingill, Federal Co-Chairman Delta Regional Authority, has announced its Winter Briefing: The Lifeline of America, The Heart of the Delta.
“The nation’s ongoing drought has dropped river channels to unsafe levels, exposing traffic to previously unseen hazards, including destructive rock pinnacles, narrowing waterways, and sandbars. Last week, President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called a meeting of the White House Rural Council. Recognizing the gravity of the Mississippi River’s drastically low water levels, our national leaders used this opportunity to address this issue and make it a top agenda item at the first Rural Council meeting of 2013. With the Great Mississippi River in fear of being shut down, all of the poetry above is reinforced: with the River, we are open for business; without it, we are not.
This is why we are so grateful to the well-timed and necessary actions of our nation’s leadership:
• The President of the United States Barack Obama;
• Our congressional leaders – and in particular Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois;
• Our region’s governors, including the leadership of Governors Beshear, Quinn, and Nixon;
• The US Army Corps of Engineers and Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy;
• The American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council, Inc.; and
• Many other local, state, and federal leaders of government and industry.
The Mississippi River is a Lifeline for our Communities, our Region, and our Nation
Nearly 10 million people in the Delta region and an estimated 15 million more in the Upper Mississippi rely on the River as a lifeline for economic development, agriculture, commerce, drinking water, food, and recreation. It is a major source of job creation and support for our region’s communities and businesses.
Of our nation’s inland and navigable waterways, an estimated 75 percent are within the Mississippi River system, making it the busiest water transportation artery in the country. This system supports a transportation industry that operates between $50 billion and $60 billion of commerce each year. Further river restriction or a shutdown could cause upwards of $7 billion of damage in lost commodities. For the region as a whole, we are talking about a potential loss of 20,000 jobs and $130 million in wages.
Traffic is Slow but Continues to Move
With the recent removal of rock pinnacles from channels outside Thebes, Illinois, and the release of water from Carlyle Lake Reservoir in southern Illinois and Red Rock Lake in Iowa, water levels for the river are now above a nine-foot depth – high enough to continue the present level of barge traffic. This level of traffic is not optimal. With only eight hours of traffic allowed each day, a potential backlog of barges attempting to pass through the ports in Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri, still remains. Yet, in the most recent reports, the U.S. Coast Guard has been able to usher approximately 500 vessels through work areas over the past month, doing its best to support our local communities along the Mississippi River and the entire Delta region with the delivery of goods and necessary commerce.
Actions and Assurances are Ongoing
We continue to advocate for appropriate action throughout the Mississippi River system in order to regulate river levels and maintain traffic patterns. As the issue continues, it is important that we find ways to provide long-term actions that prevent the river from dipping below the optimum draft levels, so our regions’ waterways transportation industry can move freely along the river and continue to deliver a livelihood to people throughout the region.
During our White House Rural Council meeting last week, US Army Corps of Engineers Major General Michael Walsh reinforced their commitment to provide the desired water level of a 10-foot river depth and a nine-foot draft. This pledge makes me optimistic that there will be few traffic restrictions and gives me great hope that, despite this historic drought, strong river commerce will continue.
Long-Term Stability for the River and the Region
Beyond this immediate action, we join the Corps, other federal agencies on the White House Rural Council, and industry in a commitment to strengthening the infrastructure of the River. Our policy continues to harken back to the old “ounce of prevention” adage; we will help communities build better infrastructure through dredging and more stable ports and will work with our state and federal policymakers toward modernizing and clarifying protocols that will ensure a more sustainable river that can better withstand future droughts and other natural disasters. The DRA remains committed to protecting the industries, economies, and people of the Delta region for whom the Mississippi River is our heart and soul.”
Press Release, January 16, 2013