Mississippi River photo from Shutterstock

2012 saw the United States hit by some of the most devastating droughts in recent memory. However it’s not just America’s farmers and agricultural developers that have been affected. The Mississippi River, one of the country’s main shipping channels, has become increasingly shallow over the last few months to the point that now the Army Corps of Engineers is in a race to deepen the river to keep navigation open between St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois.

US droughts, Army Corp of Engineers, Mississippi River, shipping, US shipping, US cargo, geoengineering, droughts, climate change, rainfall

According to an NPR report, the river’s water levels are high enough to currently float loaded barges, but unless the engineers successfully deepen the channel, the only solution may be to release water from the Missouri River – otherwise the boats will be unable to get upstream.

The Mississippi River already has a massive system of levees, locks, dikes and spillways which have changed the river’s course over decades. However if the Army Corps of Engineers continue to geo-engineer their way to higher water levels, then there is a chance that the settlements along the river bank could be put at risk. Up until now, heavy rainfall has enabled transportation to continue along the Mississippi, but now the drought has left very few options. As such, digging has begun – but it raises questions over whether the US’ continued meddling with the natural flow of the Mississippi could potentially backfire.

There is a silver lining, however. In the past few weeks, the Midwest has seen some rain and raising water levels, but if the river doesn’t start to consistently rise, the stretch between Cairo and St. Louis could become unnavigable for shipping vessels. This would mean that no shipping would reach the Great Lakes region or the shipping ports of New Orleans.

The plan to let the Missouri River flow into the channel could be successful, but it’s currently illegal – it would likely take an emergency act by the President or Congress to open Missouri River waters up to the Mississippi. So unless the US experiences a deluge of rain very shortly, those engineers are going to have to keep digging.

+ US Army Corps of Engineers

Via NPR and PopSci

Images: USDAgov and steamboatsorg