The fact that the river has remained open for business along the critical “Middle Miss” — the 200 miles between the Mississippi’s last dam-and-locks structure, above St. Louis, down to Cairo, Ill., where the plentiful Ohio River flows in — stems from a remarkable feat of engineering that involved months of nonstop dredging, blasting and scraping away of rock obstructions along the riverbed, effectively lowering the bottom of the channel by two feet. It has also involved exacting use of reservoirs along the vast river system that were initially designed by engineers using slide rules nearly 100 years ago to try to manage both flood and drought, as well as rock structures placed in recent years along the bank to direct water and speed it up, a bit like a thumb over the end of a garden hose.
During the most delicate weeks of the low-water crisis, the corps ordered its engineers and water managers to tweak upstream reservoirs, with some staff members waking up every two hours through the night to check river levels and to release precise amounts of water as needed, without wasting a drop.
“This is a game of inches,” said David R. Busse, the chief of the engineering and construction division for the St. Louis district of the corps — and in this case, the tired sports metaphor is literally true.
The effort has allowed the corps to maintain the river’s 300-foot-wide navigation channel at a depth of at least nine feet. While that is no deeper than many swimming pools, it is just enough to keep tow boats and their barges afloat, though loaded more lightly than the shippers wish. ...NYT
We all come at this news from a different perspective. Many Americans will just feel uneasy that the nation's greatest waterway, the river that pretty much divides East from West in America, is ailing. Even non- or anti-environmentalists will feel a little frisson of anxiety at the loss of so much to so many -- or anger that so many of us didn't understand where we were going wrong, or astonishment and dismay that for so long we didn't want to know. Others may conclude that the Mississippi's inches don't affect them. They're wrong.
Now, like everything else, it seems, the survival of the Mississippi will depend on politics in Washington and the willingness of people dependent on reservoirs along its route to contribute to keeping the old river full enough for blasting and shipping. People along the Missouri River -- residents and businesses -- may be asked to increase the flow of their tributary to the bigger river. Their response may be understandably rude: “...If we have to face the Missouri River option, it’s going to be very contentious,” says Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.
Such a move would inevitably set off lawsuits from states that benefit from the Missouri’s waters, arguing that the administration was violating the laws governing federally mandated uses of the Missouri. ...NYT
That move may be up to President Obama and it's a political hot potato. And remember, droughts don't just end quickly. Our grandparents and great-grandparents learned that in the 1930's.