Impact of the drought

By WEEK Producer
By Tom McIntyre

November 22, 2012 Updated Nov 22, 2012 at 7:36 PM CDT

CENTRAL ILLINOIS -- The Mississippi River, hit by the drought of 2012, is about to take another shot.

Action taken in South Dakota will likely affect coal miners in Souther Illinois and even barge traffic from the Illinois River.

The Mississippi River watershed is huge, water from 40 percent of the country flows into the river, heading to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.

But the drought on the upper Mississippi has left water levels very low, causing barge companies to carry less, which ultimately lightens their loads.

Now, there's an additional threat.

Every December, the Army Corps of Engineers cuts back the amount of water released from the Missouri, water which flows into the Mississippi River near St. Louis. That's designed to prevent icing problems on the Missouri.

Monday, the Corps started reducing the water flow more than normal, trying to lessen the impact of drought on recreational boating, fishing and the area's water supply. This, of course, helps one part of the watershed but hurts another.

"It's archaic to say you can only effect one river's plan to help that river, as opposed to the effects it would have on the river downstream," said Andrew Carter, Knight Hawk Coal Vice President.

Carter is concerned about the section of the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Cairo where he ships 85,000 tons of coal a week.

The company has already had to lighten the load of coal on barges by 30 percent.

If the river drops just a few more feet, it will make tough, rocky
spots more difficult -- even impossible --to pass

Without the river, they're not sure there will be another way to transport coal. That could put the jobs of 400 miners and 300 contractors at risk.

"We've never had to lay off an individual, That's our goal to
keep that going," said Carter.

Carter is happy to see Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon send letters asking that the Army Corps of Engineers to deviate from the Missouri River plan.

But, in the end, it's the Federal Government which has the last word.

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