Scheduled restriction of flow from Missouri River ‘threatens to slow or halt commerce’

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Acting to protect commerce on the vital inland waterways of Kentucky and surrounding states, Governor Steve Beshear today urged the Army Corps of Engineers to forego a scheduled restriction of water flow from the Missouri River.

A loss of flow from its largest tributary would be a devastating blow to the drought-stricken Mississippi River, where commerce is suffering because of low water levels, Gov. Beshear said in a letter to Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.

The Mississippi forms Kentucky’s western border and is the main artery of an inland waterway system whose importance for movement of freight touches all Kentuckians and all Americans.

In his letter, Gov. Beshear urged Assistant Secretary Darcy to “ensure every effort is made to maximize commerce on our inland waterway system and to promote the export of American goods across the world market.”

“Water levels along the section of the Mississippi from St. Louis to Cairo, Illinois (the ‘bottleneck reach’) are fast approaching levels last seen during the historic 1989 low-water year,” Gov. Beshear said. “Companies in the navigation industry are shipping less material by ‘light loading’ fleets, and the potential for further restrictions is likely, absent your intervention. Loading and unloading at impacted harbors is more costly and is complicated by difficult, shallow water conditions.”

At issue is the Missouri River Master Manual, which calls for the Corps of Engineers, as part of its river management responsibilities, to restrict the release of water from dams on the Missouri on Dec. 1. That would only worsen conditions on the already-shallow Mississippi, Gov. Beshear said.

“In light of present levels on the Mississippi – even with current flow support from the Missouri – ending Missouri River support on December 1 threatens to slow or halt commerce on the Mississippi River. The impact of reduced commerce on the Mississippi River is a matter of great importance to the economy of the entire region,” Gov. Beshear said.

The Governor, who is vice chair of the National Governor Association’s Committee on Economic Development and Commerce, also noted that the Corps has ample precedent for a deviation from its planned operations:

  • Since 2006, 11 of the 14 planned spring rises have been canceled;
  • In 2011, the Corps released backed up floodwaters so flooded infrastructure could be exposed and repaired; and
  • The Corps on occasion has released additional water during the winter to meet drinking water and power generation demands.


Download a copy of Gov. Beshear's letter to Asst. Sec. Darcy (PDF)



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