Drought slows flow of commerce on the Mississippi

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The Coast Guard estimates that $50 billion to $60 billion of commerce flows through the Mississippi River every year, but the mighty waterway isn’t as big as usual when the country suffers from a drought, as it has this summer.

Barges that carry such cargo as high fructose corn syrup, grain, coal and diesel fuel are at risk of running aground, and sometimes they do.

“The Coast Guard is working hard with industry to ensure that the impact is minimal. We have put some advisories in place,” Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Michael Block told Fox News.

The advisories require each barge to draw less water so they won’t hit the bottom. That means decreasing the load by 25 percent. Instead of pushing 40 barges, each towboat can push only 30. So, in the end, each load moves slower and is less efficient, according to the Fox News report.

A point of light may be that the Coast Guard only needs to put advisories in place, not restrictions. Coast Guard Capt. William Drelling said the shipping industry largely respects the advisories.

“It is in everybody’s interest to keep traffic flowing, to keep the river safe and environmentally sound,” Drelling said. “Nobody wants anything to happen, including industry, especially us.”

Click here for the full story, which includes a video report.

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