Low Man River

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 20, 2000

Every day, Lady Luck employees and patrons get a ride up and down the boat ramp to the Natchez dockside casino because it’s become too far to walk.

The daily rides in a golf cart or trolley are not the only problem associated with the low level of the Mississippi River, and probably not the worst.

Help may soon be on the way for the low Mississippi, but the remainder of the parched Miss-Lou is not due for relief in the near future.

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The Mississippi River has been far below normal levels for almost a year now, said Wayland Hill, civil engineering technician for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg.

The river level Friday stood at 7.4 feet, about 21 feet below the average of 28.5 feet for this time of year, Hill said. The lowest recorded level of the Mississippi River on this date was in 1977 with a reading of 6.3 feet.

During the period of low water, Hill said the U.S. Coast Guard has had to move buoys away from the shallow banks of the river to indicate a safe channel for river navigation.

&uot;We’ve been doing fine with the low water,&uot; he said. &uot;This really shows how well the improvements we’ve been making have paid off.&uot;

The Corps of Engineers have not only dredged the river below Greenwood, they have also built dikes along the river which has helped to better channel water and keep the river navigable.

The good news for people who earn their living on the river is that snow runoff and rainfall in Cairo, Ill., is causing the river level to rise there and will eventually raise the water mark in Natchez. &uot;We’re looking at a 20-foot rise in Natchez by the first week of March,&uot; Hill said. The river at Cairo has been rising as much as three or four feet a day, he said.

Natchez-Adams County Port Director Pat Murphy can’t remember the river being so low in February.

Despite the low water, Murphy said business at the port has continued.

&uot;Of course, we’ve never been shut down by low or high water,&uot; he said. &uot;But right now, it’s 60 feet down to the barge and everybody’s getting their exercise getting to the barges.&uot;

While river traffic may soon return to normal, the parched ground of the Miss-Lou may have to wait a while longer for its reprieve.

Rainfall for the Natchez area is running about 5 to 6 inches below normal, said Montra Lockwood, meterologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson. &uot;We need some steady rain,&uot; she said.

None was in the immediate forecast through Tuesday.

The Southern Regional Climate Center reports that central Mississippi is running at 32 percent of its normal precipitation so far in the year 2000.