The drought in the Midwest is one for the record books. In addition to taking a toll on crops, livestock and municipal water supplies, it is constraining freight traffic on inland waterways.
The Mississippi River, a major thoroughfare for grain, coal, petroleum, crushed rock and other commodities, is 17 feet lower today than it was two months ago.
The low river state is costing barge owners and tow operators money because they have to light load, Mark Mestemacher, co-owner of Ceres Barge Line in East St. Louis, said in an interview
Wednesday on National Public Radio's
"All Things Considered."
Mestemacher said barges are now restricted to a nine-foot draft compared to 12-feet during the first six months of the year, costing him about a third each barge's capacity and forcing him to use more barges to move the same amount of product or leave some behind.
"We were loading 2,200 to 2,300 tons in a barge and currently we can only load about 1,600 to 1,700 tons," which translates into less revenue, he said.
At $12 per ton, barge owners are leaving $7,200 per barge on the table.
Many shippers from St. Louis on south are canceling bookings because they can't even get empty barges to their docks for loading because of shallow areas, Mestemacher said.
Tow companies that moved 42-to-45 barges at once four weeks ago are now cut back to towing 25 to 30 barges, cutting their revenue by 40 percent or more, he added. - Eric Kulisch