Trade groups representing the nation’s waterways transport industry have asked the White House and Federal Emergency Management Agency for a declaration of emergency to help alleviate worsening water level conditions on the Mississippi River.
The request, which was initiated by American Waterways Operators, National Waterways Conference, Waterways Council, Inc., and 15 other national organizations on Tuesday, was made pursuant to section 501(b) of the Stafford Act.
The industry’s request calls specific attention to the worsening situation on the Mississippi River which has already seen near historic low water levels that have restricted barge traffic since the summer. The existing crisis has been heightened even further as the Army Corps of Engineers has begun the reduction of water to the Mississippi River from dams on the upper Missouri River, the groups said.
As the effects of reduced flows from the Missouri River are felt downstream and rock pinnacles are exposed near Thebes and Grand Tower, Ill., significantly impairing the flow of commerce by mid-December, the groups want President Obama to declare an emergency and direct the Corps of Engineers to immediately remove the rock pinnacles and release water from the Missouri River reservoirs as needed to preserve a nine-foot channel on the Mississippi River to sustain commercial navigation.
The groups warned the economic impacts of a Mississippi River closure would be "dire," placing $7 billion in major products such as corn, grain, coal, petroleum, chemicals and other products at risk in December and January alone, including:
- More than 7 million tons of agricultural products worth $2.3 billion.
- Over 1.7 million tons of chemical products worth $1.8 billion.
- 1.3 million tons of petroleum products worth over $1.3 billion.
- Over 700,000 tons of crude oil worth $534 million.
- 3.8 million tons of coal worth $192 million.
“The ripple effect of failing to efficiently move $7 billion in key commodities would be staggering,” said Mike Toohey, president and chief executive officer of the Waterways Council, in a statement. “The most immediate effects would be felt up and down the river, but would spread quickly from those that work on the river to those that ship on the river to manufacturing workers and eventually to all of us as consumers. This is an economic disaster in the making and the administration needs to act now to stop it.”
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, as well as 15 U.S. senators and 62 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, have also written the administration calling attention to the severity of the situation and urging action to keep the river open to navigation.
“The time for action is now, because once the water levels on the Mississippi drop, this will be an even harder problem to solve,” said Tom Allegretti, American Waterways Operators’ president and CEO.
“This can be done in a balanced and measured manner respecting other river interests, but it simply must be done,” added Amy Larson, National Waterways Conference president and CEO.