January 8, 2013 8:45 AM, EST
Barge Owners Cite Concerns of Drought on Mississippi River Traffic

Mississippi River barge operators said the worst drought in 80 years may put at risk the emergency dredging and rock removal aimed at keeping the nation’s busiest waterway open at least through this month, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday.

The only way to maintain a navigable channel may be to release water from the Missouri River system, one operator told Bloomberg.

The Mississippi River typically carries as much as $2.8 billion in cargo in January, including grain, coal and crude oil, according to the American Waterways Operators.

But the worst drought since the 1930s has exposed submerged rock formations and shrunk the river to levels that may become too shallow for navigation, Bloomberg reported.

Shipping company officials joined the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and lawmakers including U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) Monday in Thebes, Ill., on the eastern bank of the river, where rocks pose the greatest hazard to river traffic, Bloomberg reported.

Emergency dredging and excavation work will keep the river navigable for most towboats at least through the end of this month, Corps of Engineers officials said previously.