From Too Dry to Too Wet on the Upper Mississippi River Waterway

Several locks on the Upper Mississippi River have been closed due to high water levels. Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, says it’s not unusual for water levels to rise in the spring. What is unusual is how fast the challenges on the Mississippi River went from too dry to too wet.

“The pendulum really can swing pretty dramatically, and this time of the year, we’re particularly vulnerable to it because you can have these late-winter, early-spring significant weather events with a lot of snowfall in a particular region. And then, the ground, at that same time, is still pretty cold, and when it does melt, it doesn’t soak into the ground. So, the ground behaves more like a tabletop versus a sponge, so any kind of melting that occurs, it’s expedited into our streams and rivers. If you have that same kind of precipitation during the summer, you won’t see that kind of dramatic increase in water levels because so much of its being absorbed into the ground.”

He expects many locks to be closed until the first or second week of May.

“Not every lock that’s between St. Paul, Minnesota and about as far south as Hannibal, Missouri, Quincy, Illinois, that kind of region, not every single one of them is closed because each one has some idiosyncrasies to it with their specific location, but most of them are. Some for a week, a week-and-a-half, but even others are going to be two to three weeks. I envision when we’re in the middle of May, we’re still going to see some of these locks that are closed. Obviously, the big variable is what kind of precipitation we receive in the days to come?”

While the higher levels will impact some grain shipments, the larger concern is the shipments of fertilizers heading north through the waterway.

“Once the Upper Mississippi River opens, typically in March, you start to see a lot of fertilizer shipments northbound. So, late March, throughout the course of April into May, you see a lot of those northbound fertilizer shipments. So, that’s something that is key for the agricultural industry is having those barge shipments of fertilizer. For those cooperatives that haven’t fully restocked, and some of them have restocked on their fertilizer needs, but for those that still need to have those deliveries, they’re going to have to find alternative routes, and that’s typically via railroad.”

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