Barge shippers can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for now.
The lingering drought gripping much of the nation had threatened to reduce water levels on the Mississippi River to the point that shipping would be effectively shut down.
This weekend contractors working for the Army Corps of Engineers completed a project to deepen the shipping channel on a particularly treacherous stretch of the river south of St. Louis.
Spokesperson Mike Peterson thinks there’s reason for optimism, he says the Corps isn’t out of the woods yet.
PETERSON: “Historically, February, we usually do start to see some rise out of the river. But we are dealing with a drought, so we’re always keeping our eye on the worst case scenario. But we’re hoping for the best and definitely trying to meet nature halfway.”
The U.S. Coast Guard says that recent rains and the project to deepen the river near Thebes Illinois will keep barges moving until the end of the month.
Lieutenant Colin Fogarty says historically the river begins to rise in February, but it’s hard to know if that will be the case this year.
FOGARTY: “The United States Coast Guard is confident we can maintain a safe, navigable channel up until late January. Beyond that, it really becomes too hard to predict.”
But low water levels could again lead to concerns about a shipping shutdown by early February.
-Illinois Public Radio, KWMU