Barge captain sounds the alarm about levels along the nation’s inland waterways

Barges that often transport grains down river are bracing for a tough season. One captain on the Western rivers say they are preparing for similar conditions we saw last year.

“It’s not looking real good. We’re going to see a repeat of last year, I’m afraid, when we have low water, toe sizes are reduced. That’s the number of barges we can push, and there’s always the potential possibility of river closures due to channel failure and they have to learn dredge, which might take 24 hours. It might take a week. Also to mention, when the river drops continuously like it’s looking like it’s going to do, then they have to lighten the traps and see the Cairo S going to a 10/6 or 11/6 foot draft barge. They’re going to be 8.5 foot-9 foot and that’s less tonnage to move. So it takes more barges to move the product, which causes the price of shipping to go up,” said Captain Jimmy Cheatham.

Cheatham explains the long-term effects low water levels can have when trying to get goods out of key areas.

“The long-term effect that we’re looking at for like Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, moving product. It could divert to rail if the lower Mississippi gets congested due to the water. Right now, we’re still trying to get a lot of agricultural products to move into the cities in St. Paul, Minnesota, and all destinations in between, carrying a lot of fertilizers up, bulk salt, haul steel, and anything that can be moved by bulk. But right now, there’s been a lot of fertilizer being moved up that should have been already in place.”

Cheatham says he is not worried about the river running dry but says as the weather changes, it could slow things down, and in turn, hurt the farmers.