Drop in river level has little effect

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 1, 1999

The Mississippi River has been dropping for weeks, but that hasn’t affected business that travels up and down the mighty waterway.

Wednesday’s gauge for the Mississippi River was 13.8 feet, according to the National Weather Service. The river has been steadily dropping since the the first of July.

Pat Murphy, director of the Natchez-Adams County Port, said the ever shrinking water level on the Mississippi hasn’t affected the port at all.

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&uot;We’ve never shut down because of high or low water,&uot; Murphy said.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers has done a commendable job of keeping the waterway open and navigable, Murphy said.

Tom Matthews of the U.S. Corps of Engineers in Vidalia, La., said historically, the river isn’t that far off its usual mark.

&uot;Over the last 40 years, the average river stage for the Mississippi on Sept. 1 has been 15 feet,&uot; he said.

The current stage of 13.8 feet in no way compares to the great drought of 1988, Matthews said.

&uot;The gauge read 3.9 feet at that time,&uot; he said, necessitating the Corps of Engineers to dredge the river.

&uot;We try to maintain a river depth and width of nine feet deep and 300 feet wide from Cairo, Ill., to the Gulf of Mexico,&uot; Matthews said.

The lowest river stage recorded in recent history was in 1940, when the gauge read -1.6 feet below sea level, he said. Since the river’s depth dips below sea level, negative readings are possible, though rare.

&uot;The good news is the National Weather Service is predicting some rain in the Ohio Valley,&uot; said Jim Jeffords, acting chief of navigation for the Vicksburg District of the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

The Mississippi River is primarily fed by the Ohio River. Strong rains in the Ohio Valley eventually mean higher water stages for the Mississippi.

Jeffords said the river is supposed to reverse its drop in the next few days, though only by a foot or so. For Natchez, the forecast calls for a river stage of 14.4 feet on Sept. 3, 14.6 feet on Sept. 4 and 5, and 14.5 feet on Sept. 6.