November 9, 2012
Ability to ship goods via barge critical to nation's economy, Gov. Nixon says
Gov. Nixon calls on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to preserve navigation on the Mississippi River
JEFFERSON CITY - Gov. Jay Nixon today sent a letter to the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Jo-Ellen Darcy, urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue providing water flow from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River. The Corps' current plans would stop the release of water from the Missouri River's upstream reservoirs beginning Dec. 1, which would negatively impact the ability to navigate the Mississippi River.
"The 2012 drought has caused a significant impact on water levels on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. With the continuing and projected lack of adequate precipitation, additional barge traffic restrictions on - or even closure of - the Mississippi River channel become imminent possibilities. I urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to avert potential economic disaster on this vital avenue American farmers use to get their goods into the world market," Gov. Nixon said in his letter.
Under normal conditions, water from the Missouri River accounts for about 60 percent of the flow in the Mississippi River. However, because of this year's significant drought, the Mississippi River has received as much as 78 percent of its water from the Missouri River. Even with this support from the Missouri River, the low water levels in the Mississippi have forced barge operators to carry lighter loads, decreasing productivity and potentially reducing exports. Without additional and continued support, America's barge and export operations are at risk.
Gov. Nixon noted in his letter that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the authority to provide the additional water, and cited previous occasions in which the Corps has deviated from its established plan in order to prevent adverse impacts.
The full text of the Governor's letter is as follows:
The Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy
Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)
108 Army Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20310-0108
Dear Assistant Secretary Darcy:
The 2012 drought has caused a significant impact on water levels on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. With the continuing and projected lack of adequate precipitation, additional barge traffic restrictions on - or even closure of - the Mississippi River channel become imminent possibilities. I urge you to avert potential economic disaster on this vital avenue American farmers use to get their goods into the world market.
During this summer and fall, Missouri River flow support contributed as much as 78% of Mississippi River flows at St. Louis. Even with that significant support, the section of the Mississippi from St. Louis to Cairo, Illinois (the "bottleneck reach") is fast approaching levels last seen during the historic 1989 low water year. Already, companies in the navigation industry along these rivers are being forced to ship less material by "light loading" fleets, and the potential for further restrictions is likely. In addition, harbors are challenged with loading and unloading in difficult shallow water conditions.
I know that alternative measures are being considered to maintain the Mississippi channel, including dredging and clearing of rock pinnacles along the river. I urge you to fast-track and fully implement those efforts. This emergency requires a multifaceted approach, and I encourage you to use all possible means to ensure that this vital asset is preserved.
The Corps of Engineers plans to restrict Missouri River navigation flow support to the Mississippi River on December 1, based on the Missouri River Master Manual. Given the already taxed status of the Mississippi - when it has flow support from the Missouri - it is clear that the withdrawal of that support December 1 would have a significant adverse effect on our Nation's economy.
While I recognize the importance of balancing the congressionally-authorized purposes for these rivers, I also recognize the implications to our nation's economy that would accompany the inability to move goods along the Mississippi River. The Master Manual allows the Corps to deviate from planned operations to comply with other obligations (see Master Water Control Manual 7-03.5 and 7-17). Indeed the Corps has exercised such authority on previous occasions:
- The Corps has appropriately canceled the spring rise on many occasions in recent years; in fact, since 2006, 11 of the 14 planned spring rises have been canceled;
- In 2011, the Corps released backed up floodwaters so that flooded infrastructure could be exposed and repaired; and
- The Corps on occasion has released additional water during the winter to meet water supply demands of drinking water and power generation operations.
All of these examples illustrate the Corps' exercise of authority under the Master Manual to address situations where circumstances justify deviation from the plan. Coupling these precedents with the fact that currently seventy-five percent of the water designated for downstream uses is still available in Missouri River reservoirs, it is appropriate and necessary to extend flow support assistance for the Mississippi River during these extraordinary circumstances.
Continuing flow support from the Missouri's reservoirs will help preserve the Mississippi's channel in this emergency as an integral piece of our Nation's economic infrastructure. This is an opportunity to put Missouri River water to its highest and best use for the public good. I urge you to take the authorized steps necessary to insure the continuation of flow support.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon