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Corps not budging on Mississippi River flap

Dec. 08, 2012 @ 12:11 AM

ST. LOUIS -- The Army Corps of Engineers has turned back requests by federal lawmakers and the barge operators to release more water from the Missouri River, believing the drought-starved Mississippi River it feeds still will remain open to shipping. The industry, however, warns that the situation is growing increasingly dire.

Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy, in a Thursday letter obtained by The Associated Press, told lawmakers from Mississippi River states she doesn't consider it necessary to boost Missouri River flows into the Mississippi -- something the politicians urgently had sought.

Darcy, a top Army Corps official, noted this week's revised National Weather Service forecast, which showed the Mississippi's level wasn't falling as rapidly as expected. She also said the corps is hastening its push to rid the river of rock pinnacles south of St. Louis that endanger barges when the water level is low.

Darcy also reinforced what the corps has been insisting for weeks: Reducing the Missouri's flow is necessary because low levels in its upper basin could negatively affect recreation in the upper Missouri while impacting drinking water supplies, animal habitat and hydropower. Darcy added that the corps is legislatively bound to act in the best interest of the Missouri River, with what happens on the Mississippi incidental.

The corps last month began paring the outflow from an upper Missouri River dam in South Dakota with plans to gradually cut about two-thirds of the flow through next Tuesday. That action stoked concerns among Mississippi River barge operators, given that Missouri River water accounts for about 78 percent of the Mississippi at St. Louis.

Of chief concern is a pivotal 180-mile stretch of the Mississippi from St. Louis to the confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Ill., where heavy traffic includes shipments going south to the Gulf of Mexico and northbound transports head to Chicago and Minneapolis and points in between. There, the Mississippi is 15 to 20 feet below normal due to months of drought, and rock pinnacles at two southern Illinois sites could make it difficult, if not impossible, for barges to pass if the river drops much lower.

(u'addcomment', u'nobuy')

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