Drought Not Endangering Barge Traffic on Rivers
By Bill Hughes
PADUCAH, KY - Rainfall totals for the year are way below average, and crops are already suffering. But has the lack of rain affected barge traffic on the rivers?
U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Jason Franz is Prevention Chief for the Marine Safety Unit in Paducah. He said that river levels are indeed low, but rain water from the midwest and the upper Ohio River valley have kept channels navigable. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also gets credit for that, by managing water levels using locks and dams, such as Dam 52 near Brookport, and Dam 53 at Grand Chain.
Franz said multiple agencies involved in the river industry watch river gauges by using websites like the National Weather Service site, and those agencies are in contact with each other whenever necessary. Barge companies, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Weather Service will arrange conference calls to discuss current levels, forecast levels, dredging work, and other factors, to determine if restrictions should be put in place.
Franz said those calls usually take place every week or so, with more frequent conferences when river levels get too high or too low. He says the agencies will review their Waterways Action Plan based on the situation, to make sure everyone knows how to proceed.
Since our area is fed by rivers that stretch so far to the east and north, it would take a severe drought over a huge geographic area to stop traffic on the rivers. This is good news, since barges are the least expensive way to transport raw materials, fuel, and food to our area, and further south.