Stakeholders in shipping and commerce on Tuesday asked President Barack Obama and representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to declare a state of emergency on the middle Mississippi due to low water levels that could halt barge traffic.
In the letter, 18 groups, including the Waterways Council, the Fertilizer Institute and the American Farm Bureau Federation, asked President Obama to direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address a two-fold problem: expedite the removal of rock which may impede traffic near Grand Tower and Thebes, Ill., and increase flows from the Missouri River.
The Corps began the seasonal process of reducing river flows last week despite much concern among ag and waterways groups, who say a closure on the Mississippi River could come at a high cost.
"The Mississippi River is a critical national transportation artery, on which hundreds of millions of tons of essential commodities are shipped, such as corn, grain and oilseeds, coal, petroleum, chemicals, agricultural inputs, steel, scrap materials transported for recycling, and other products," the groups wrote.
"Substantial curtailment of navigation will effectively sever the country’s inland waterway superhighway, imperil the shipment of critical cargo for domestic consumption and for export, threaten manufacturing industries and power generation and risk thousands of related jobs in the Midwest."
Though the seasonal flow reduction is typically not a problem, continued drought has exacerbated already low water levels, and has created urgency to remove the rock formations in question.
Though the Corps says it has finalized plans to remove the rock, no work has been completed. The groups' letter notes that rock removal will not happen "soon enough to avert severe impact to navigation."
Governors of Missouri, Illinois and Iowa, along with 15 U.S. Senators and 62 U.S. Representatives have also requested action to keep the river open.
Find the letter and complete list of signatories here.