River at low stage

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Vidalia &8212; Josh Tiser said he doesn&8217;t mind the Mississippi River being so low because in some ways, it makes his job easier.

Tiser, 27, is a deckhand aboard the tugboat Bettye M. Jenkins at Vidalia Dock and Storage.

He said the only difficulty the low river stages bring to his job is having to extend the shore cables out further to more secure ground so that the barge doesn&8217;t drift out into the river.

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&8220;An advantage to the river stage being so low is, the current is slower and it takes less time for the boat to haul the barge up river,&8221; Tiser said.

Tiser said one of the busiest times for him is grain-harvesting season, when he connects the barges full of grain to the tugboats and pushes them either from Vidalia to the grain elevator in Bunge or from Vidalia to the elevator in Waterproof.

&8220;Right now we&8217;re having to take the grain to Waterproof because the river is so low, Bunge is land-locked,&8221; Tiser said.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Web site, the current river stage at Natchez is 10.2 feet, just 27.5 feet above sea level, five feet less than the average level this time of year.

Despite the low river stages, chief of the Vidalia Army Corps of Engineers, Tom Matthews, said barge transportation is still running smoothly.

&8220;The river is pretty low but this happens, I would say, every four years,&8221; Matthews said. &8220;We are in a low stage but the river is in very good shape.&8221;

&8220;The last significant drop we had was in 1988, when the river gauge at Natchez measured 2.6 feet,&8221; Matthews said.

&8220;That year, we had a lot of bad blockage problems with the barges down the river particularly south of Natchez at Dead Man&8217;s Crossing.&8221;

Since that time, Matthews said the Army

Corps has eased river navigation troubles with dredging, cementing the riverbanks and stone dikes.

Dredging involves large barges that vacuum sediment settled on the river bottom and deposits the sediment back in the river to flow out into the Gulf of Mexico.

&8220;Cementing the riverbank prevents erosion of the bank and keeping the sediment on the bank from falling into the river. This keeps the depth of the river the same,&8221; Matthews said.

Stone dikes are long walls of rock or rip rap that stretch from the bank into the river.

&8220;The dikes train the river and channel the flow closer to the center therefore scouring the sediment from the bottom, flushing the sediment out into the gulf and digging the channel deeper,&8221; Matthews said.

Glenn Daniels, with the Concordia Parish Agricultural Extension service said that combined with the hot temperature and dry weather, the low river stages have had a negative impact on farming in the parish.

Daniels said the farmers growing crops closer to the river are not receiving adequate amounts of water from aquifers, a form of natural underground irrigation created by the river.

&8220;Because the river is so low the aquifers are not being replenished and water is not getting to the alluvial river silt the farmers grow their crops in,&8221; Daniels said.

&8220;Last year Concordia Parish farmers cut an average of 50 to 60 bushels of soy beans per acre but this year farmers have averaged about 20 bushels,&8221; Daniels said.

Recreational fishing also becomes difficult during low river stages said fishing professional Eddie Roberts.

&8220;When the river stage gets below 14 feet, like it is now, the lakes like St. John, Concordia, the Old Rivers and the Black River Lake Complex become land-locked,&8221; Roberts said.

When this happens the water temperatures rise, water depths falls and cover for the fish becomes exposed, causing the fish to move off-shore and making the fishing tough,

Roberts said.

&8220;Usually in autumn the river will rise and the fishing will turn on again until the stage reaches 35 feet,&8221; Roberts said. &8220;River depth is critical for successful fishing in the Miss-Lou.&8221;