Rain or shine, the battle of the Mississippi rages on. The vital shipping lane that supports middle-American economies from the Upper-Midwest to New Orleans is once again in dire straits as the Army Corps of Engineers struggles to control Big Muddy--this time by making it deeper. Wracked by the worst (and longest) droughts in memory, the Midwest and the river are critically short on water, so short that the shallowest stretch of the river between Cairo, Ill. and St. Louis could become unnavigable in the next month, and the Corps of Engineers is just about out of geoengineering options to mitigate the problem, NPR reports.
The Army Corps of Engineers has been building and managing the complex and sprawling system of levees, locks, dikes and spillways along the length of the Mississippi River for decades now, bending the river--which periodically wants to change its course, top its banks, and otherwise be, you know, a natural flowing body of water--to its will. Meanwhile, human development along the river offers the Corps a smaller and smaller envelope in which to err.
Usually when the Corps of Engineers finds itself in a jam along the Mississippi the culprit is heavy rainfall and flooding, which test the strength of decades-old levees and dams designed to keep the river in (as they did as recently as 2011). But right now, the Corps is scrambling to deal with precisely the opposite--even after tapping reservoirs all along the Upper-Midwest, there's simply not enough water to be had. With options dwindling, the Corps is once again trying to engineer its way around a natural calamity, calling into question whether or not our continued meddling with the natural flow of the Mississippi is simply digging us a bigger hole in the long run.
Right now, the Corps is quite literally digging a hole. Barges on the Mississippi in southern Illinois are heaving rocks out of the river in an attempt to dredge two more feet of depth through the shallowest stretch--enough to keep traffic flowing at least through the end of January. The good news for the Corps right now is that the Midwest has had some rain in recent weeks, and if it can get through this month the river should rise again (historically, the Mississippi's water level bottoms out in January and begins rising again in February and through the spring). But past performance is not always an indicator of future results. If the river doesn't begin rising again soon, the stretch between Cairo and St. Louis could become unnavigable for shipping vessels in the coming weeks, cutting off shipping in the Great Lakes region from the lower Mississippi River and its access to the shipping ports of New Orleans.
There is one other option. The Corps could open up the controls along the Missouri River--the Mississippi's biggest tributary--and let its waters flow into the Mississippi. But the Missouri basin itself is already quite parched, and besides it's illegal for the Corps to do so under its charter. It would likely take an emergency act by the President or Congress to open Missouri River waters up to the Mississippi, and then the Corps would have a whole new problem: a dried up Missouri River and a lot of angry interests along its banks.
So the Corps of Engineers has to go on digging, dredging, and ultimately praying for rain--a reminder that our attempts a geoengineering have a come a long way, but that they currently can take us only so far.
I am a big fan of trains myself, they are more economically manageable and predictable too.
why not make tug boats with wheels (like a heavy-duty duck bout) and just pull the boats that that way.
maybe we should have a second look at mining with nuclear explosions
Trains are the answer....
YEAH, BABY!! Here come the mud skids and megamotors! New tugs,a whole new breed of personal craft or three, tightrope walking across the Mississippi!
From the perspective of someone that used to live on that river I'd really like to tell people that water control there is all about time and sequencing in realtime. It's ALWAYS behind the moment. America really does need to hear that the Army Corps need to hear any way that they haven't thought of to gain time, because if they had that, on top of their weather and flow algorhithms, they could hold water at the end of the flood cycle. If they can't, they get this. They know that in a perfect system, they need lose only one lockpass of water to float a full river of traffic if it was only one way and at one time, but it ain't. It's sporadic traffic both ways and works against management. Traffic doesn't care that the Army Corps ain't there for them, but to balance risk against disaster while supporting their movement.
In those respects, the current number of lockdams is inadequate. Hate to break it to ya, folks. But there are other ways before that heart attack of a bill. In a perfect world versus this, we'd have main reservoirs, collectively adding to the water body as a whole as flow decreases. Look away from the water and it's traffic that's killing everything. They get free passage on demand. The water being everybody's. The power generated from it is everybody's. So in my analysis, if there's no true power to the Army Corps mandate, we get this.
Traffic should have to pay float penalty for going outside the needs of everyone else. Bigtime. Either we organize the traffic, or it's this. We also afford way too much water per pass. Put em 2 inches off the floor. Spend back the power to save the water, supplement it from the grid if need be, shouldn't be much as the system does actually do what it was designed to. In that, they shouldn't be generating power on the river at all right now, should they? Hmmm. Wonder how many they got spinnin right now? You can float a lotta boats on that water.
What people don't understand about dredging of the main channel is that it further depletes the limestone aquifers on either side. Exacerbating the problem, volume totals wise. There is lead in much of the area of concern as well. Create drop, pull in more lead, galena, and all the rest of the nearby deposits on that dropping watertable. Yummy. Gifts for downriver friends. God don't hate New Orleans, but maybe America does. Does anyone out there know the reality of the water passing through there, content-wise? Shhh, yeah, ok.
why not get the water from lake Michigan?