Underwater sill built to keep salty Gulf water from creeping up historically low Miss. River

Exposed Mississippi River bank
Exposed Mississippi River bank(rob masson)
Published: Oct. 26, 2022 at 5:52 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The United States Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday completed a multi-million dollar project to build an underwater levee designed to block saltwater from creeping up the drought-stricken Mississippi River.

Officials are hoping the sill will protect water intakes in Belle Chasse, New Orleans, and Jefferson Parish.

The Mississippi River in Memphis, Tenn. is 11 feet below flood stage and while most navigation problems on the river lie north of Baton Rouge, a rarely exposed river bank at a Carrollton gauge is nearly 15 feet lower than it is at flood stage.

Mississippi River Levels
Mississippi River Levels(WVUE)

The low river forced the Army Corps of Engineers to spend millions of dollars to build an underwater sill to block salt water from creeping upriver and threatening drinking intakes.

Plaquemines Parish officials have now brought in special saltwater purification systems for Boothville and East Point a la Hache to deal with saltwater intrusion downriver of the sill at Myrtle Grove.

Barges and ships at the Bonne Carre Spillway are loading light and riding high in the water to keep from grounding, a situation that has dramatically increased the cost of shipping, which will add to consumer inflation woes.

More: Historically low Miss. River makes for intriguing photos, but poses difficult challenges

“To move something from St. Louis to the mouth of the river is almost $100 a ton for agriculture commodities where it was averaging $24-$29 a ton,” said La. Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain.

Strain says for every foot you don’t load a grain ship due to low river levels, the shipping company loses $1 million in revenue, and those increased costs are passed on to consumers.

In this photo taken by a drone, a barge maneuvers its way down the normally wide Mississippi...
In this photo taken by a drone, a barge maneuvers its way down the normally wide Mississippi River where it has been reduced to a narrow trickle Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, at Tiptonville, Tenn. The lack of rainfall in recent weeks has left the river approaching record low levels in areas from Missouri south through Louisiana, making barge and other navigation along the river more difficult. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)(Jeff Roberson | AP)

The changes are obvious up and down the river. The US Department of Agriculture says southbound shipments have dropped by 20%.

“What we will see over the next six months to a year will be higher costs for pork, beef, and chicken which are fed the grains that will cost more to move,” said Strain.

The long-range Fox 8 forecast calls for continued dry conditions below Vicksburg, which will cause the Corps of Engineers to step up dredging operations where barges ground out further upriver.

Strain says for every foot you don’t load a grain ship due to low river levels, the shipping company loses $1 million in revenue, and those increased costs are passed on to consumers.

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