Melt may help Mississippi River

River projections looking positive through January

Published on: Jan 13, 2013

     Members of last week’s Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable were buoyed by the latest projections of winter navigation capabilities on the Upper Mississippi.

     In an email to commercial river stakeholders statewide, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) said it was hopeful the river could remain open to navigation at least through January.

     IDOT reported navigation was continuing on the Mississippi from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily at Thebes south of St. Louis, where crews are removing high rock “pinnacles” that could impede barge traffic.

IDOT reported the Corps has been “aggressively working all lines of operation,” from dredging and reservoir management to rock removal.

     Last week’s river forecast indicated a 10-foot-deep navigation channel depth and corresponding 9-foot vessel draft “will persist to the end of the month,” IDOT stated. Department officials suggested a warming trend coupled with anticipated precipitation would result in snow melt and rainfall entering the middle Mississippi system.

     That’s “excellent news for the fertilizer industry,” said Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association Executive Director Jean Payne. January access is crucial to that sector as it works to shore up spring supplies, Payne said.

     “It looks like the river closure has been pushed back and potentially won’t happen until the end of January, and maybe not then,” GROWMARK director of plant food Joe Dillier told FarmWeek at the roundtable.

     “The supply availability picture for the spring season is much improved. We’re pretty optimistic. Fall movement of fertilizer and fall consumption of fertilizer were strong. We got a good amount of fertilizer work done this fall; a good amount’s already on.”

     The river is critical to northbound shipments of ammonia and urea, said Dillier, who warned movement from barge to rail shipment would pose a “significant” cost for GROWMARK.

     The only potential hitch in meeting spring fertilizer needs would be a February shutdown on the river, he said. However, Dillier was encouraged by the pace of rock removal at Thebes -- added work likely will begin soon in the nearby Grand Tower area -- and predicted “we’ll still be shipping.”

     “Depth-restricting” pinnacles reportedly were to be removed by Friday, providing roughly two feet in additional depth. Removal of pinnacles along river bends outside the authorized Thebes channel is expected by month’s end, and additional dredging of the channel is planned Jan. 19-21.

     “The fact we can see some (snow) melt is going to help,” Payne told FarmWeek. “In late January or February, the river’s always kind of questionable from a freezing standpoint. The number of additional days that we can assure navigation (during the winter) sure helps take the pressure off for the spring,” she said.