The Mississippi River’s water levels are so low that it’s messing with barge traffic and recreational boat travel along the crucial waterway.
These are the lowest water levels that the river has seen in about 10 years, brought on by drought across the Midwest this year and low rainfall, CNN reported. As of Friday, the Coast Guard reports that there are 2,253 barges and 144 vessels that are lined up and waiting to move. This has occurred at two points of the river: around Vicksburg, Mississippi and near Memphis.
The Coast Guard isn’t certain that traffic will resume this week. It reported that eight barges ran aground in the river, getting stuck in sand and mud that the vessels would have easily sailed over before this year. In order to help traffic move along smoothly again, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dredged several spots along the river, per CNN.
Once the barges start moving again, they’ll have to carry about 20% less cargo than usual to avoid running around, which is bad news for the country’s already chaotic supply chains. This will especially affect the movement of agricultural goods throughout the U.S., including getting fertilizer for next year’s crops to farmers across several states.
The alarmingly low water levels are also halting recreational travel along the river. Cruise ships regularly traversed the Mississippi before the drought, along with personal boats. A cruise ship that was supposed to launch from New Orleans this past weekend had to move to Baton Rouge, according to USA Today.
The U.S. has been pummeled by drought this year. Back in March, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted widespread drought through the spring and summer. By August, more than half of the country was experiencing some form of drought conditions. Climate change and human activity are contributing to more and more intense droughts. Farmers tending crops and livestock are struggling, and water use restrictions are affecting millions of Americans.
Other important rivers are running low. Earlier this year, the Colorado River was named the country’s most at-risk river. Extremely low water levels in the river’s basin are straining the ability for major reservoirs to provide driving water and hydropower to states out West.