A couple nights of rain across much of the state this week will do little to raise the level of the Mississippi River, which is as low as it’s been in years. Larry Daily’s President at Alter Barge Lines in Bettendorf and says they’re having to put less cargo in their floating containers, but shipping on the river hasn’t been halted completely. Dailey explains as the water gets lower, it does move more swiftly in the channel that’s left, and that keeps some of the sediment “scoured out.” Parts of eastern Iowa as well as western Illinois are on track to have their driest year ever. Alter says the river’s users are benefiting from some work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Along the river’s banks are “wing dams” designed to help channel what water there is in the Mississippi into the center, so it’ll keep the navigation channel open. There’s always dredging as a last resort, though Dailey knows the Corps couldn’t dig silt from the entire length of the river. The current itself is steered to the navigation channel to help keep it clear, and as deep as possible. “So you don’t have to dredge everywhere,” he explains, “just places that are too broad and too shallow, that the current can’t keep it cleaned out.” That’s where the Corps of Engineers will concentrate its dredging efforts. Barges carry fertilizer and fuel upriver, and later this year will carry a part of Iowa’s harvest back down the Mississippi to seagoing ports.
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