Ice, low water levels cause headaches on the Missourigreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Ice, low water levels cause headaches on the Missouri
By JOHN WILKERSON, Associated Press December 29, 2000 ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Removing ice from roadways is a challenge, but dealing with ice on the Missouri River is proving to be equally troublesome. The extreme cold weather that has settled in over Missouri this month has created ice over much of the river. High winds and frigid temperatures also froze solid many smaller rivers and streams that feed the Missouri.
Water levels were already low anyway, thanks in part to a summerlong drought. As a result, many Missouri towns along the river are seeing near-record low levels of water.
Low water levels are a big concern for power plants and water plants. If the water levels dip below the intake valves of the plants, they can't operate.
``The problem is that we're in a drought cycle,'' said George Hanley, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. ``To add to that problem, there's always the threat of ice jams, and that's happened twice already this year.''
The Corps regulates the river level by releasing more water from dams upstream. But ice complicates the matter by damming up water in spots, creating ``dips'' in the water level below the ice dams.
The Corps must walk of fine line in releasing water, said Paul Johnston, director of public affairs for the Northwestern Division of the Corps. If it releases too little water, the river level will drop too low for the intakes at power and water plants. If too much is released, flooding can occur, particularly upstream.
It takes water more than 10 days to flow from the nearest upstream dam in Yankton, S.D., to the point where it merges into the Mississippi near St. Louis, and there is a lot of ice in between.
To monitor the ice, the Corps has businesses and residents along the river who call in each day with an ice report. This year, the Corps also contracted a plane and videotaped the river from Yankton to Kansas City.
Johnston said the Corps is releasing about 25 percent more water this year than the past couple winters, which were unusually mild. Unfortunately, there is less water in the reservoirs because of the drought.
More water released in the winter means less water next spring. Johnston said the water supply is not low enough to be concerned about, at least not yet.
Hanley said there are few options for breaking up ice jams. Dynamite is an option, but it doesn't do much good. The Corps also sometimes uses chemicals to melt the ice. However, this requires the sun to hit the chemicals at a certain angle. At this time of year, the sun's angle simply doesn't hit the ice right.
``We can't do much,'' Hanley said. ``This is not a narrow little stream.''
Already this year, low water levels have affected power plants throughout the Kansas City area. One was shut down Dec. 11 when the river stage dipped below the facility's intake level.
So far, eastern Missouri power plants have been unscathed. An AmerenUE plant in Labadie, near Washington, recorded its lowest-ever river level Christmas evening, said Tim Fox, a spokesman for the company. However, that level would have to drop another two feet or so to shut down the plant.
Since then, Ameren has released water from a dam on the Osage River near Lake of the Ozarks. On Wednesday the water level was up nearly a foot.
Water facilities are also at risk if the river drops too low. And while power companies can purchase electricity from other sources, water isn't so easy to get.
The water supply appears safe in the St. Louis area. Dennis Wingertsahn, vice president of operations for Missouri American Water Co., said the river would have to drop about 11 feet before its treatment facilities would have to shut down.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), December 29, 2000
Friday, December 29, 2000
Ice, low water levels choking barge traffic on Mississippi, other rivers
The Associated Press
Record-low December temperatures are behind more than a white Christmas this year along the Mississippi River -- they're killing profits for barge companies and delaying cargo shipments along one of the country's major transportation arteries.
The Mississippi was a 500-mile skating rink Thursday from St. Paul, Minn., to south of Rock Island, Ill., said William Gretten, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' locks and dams at Rock Island.
But while it's not unusual for the river's northernmost section to freeze, it usually happens later in the winter and not as far south as Quincy, in central Illinois, where the ice was starting to break up enough to let some barges through, Gretten said.
The trouble wasn't limited to the mighty Mississippi -- the "tree trunk" of interior U.S. waterways -- but extended to some of its branches, too.
Warnings issued last week by the Corps remain in effect limiting barge traffic on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers at Alton and LaGrange, near Beardstown.
While 15 barges usually pass through the central-Illinois locks at one time, carrying around 1,500 tons of cargo each, the corps will let only eight pass at once, said Tom Miller, the Army Corps' lockmaster for the region.
More restrictions are possible, he said.
"We're just watching the weather. If it gets colder, we might go down" in the amount of cargo the Army Corps allows to pass through its frozen locks, Miller said.
And the U.S. Coast Guard in St. Louis on Wednesday issued similar restrictions on the stretch of Mississippi from Cairo, at Illinois' southern tip, up to St. Louis. Ice in the north was making water levels downriver dangerously low, the Coast Guard said.
Even colder temperatures are possible, according to the Illinois State Water Survey. The agency said Thursday that December 2000 was the coldest in Illinois since 1895, with an average temperature of 17 degrees. December temperatures in Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin have each been the coldest since 1983, the agency said; Minnesota's, the coldest since 1989.
If it doesn't warm up soon, barge traffic delays could turn costly for exporters of Midwest commodities like soybeans, wheat and corn, said David Grier, a waterways navigation analyst for the Army Corps in Alexandria, Va.
Of the 80 million to 100 million tons of commodities that chug along the upper Mississippi River each year -- from St. Paul to St. Louis, where the southernmost locks are located -- more than half is grain on its way to overseas markets, Grier said. And it all has to meet a deadline.
"As the system freezes up, barges can't move anywhere," Grier said. "If they're still up there," instead of loading their cargo into ships at New Orleans, "they're stuck," he said.
Some commodities analysts attributed a brief dip earlier this week in soybeans futures prices to the ice delay, although Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities Inc. in West Des Moines, Iowa, said it's too early to worry.
"As long as they stay within a three-week to one-month time frame, it's OK," he said. "And they can do that."
Larry Daily of Alter Barge Line in Bettendorf, Iowa, isn't so optimistic. Six of his tow boats -- which push barges up and down river -- are stranded in St. Louis, unable to make the icy pass upriver back to the company or down river to cargo trips in warmer waters.
The unused tows are costing the private company about $10,000 a day in lost profit, said Daily, who was resigned as he looked out of his office window at yet another Iowa snow storm.
"It's just a matter of what Mother Nature is going to do to us," he said.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 29, 2000.