The Mississippi River at Baton Rouge was almost 24 feet lower on July 5 compared with the same day last year, when the river stage was at 28.7 feet.
On Thursday, the Mississippi River dropped to 5 feet in Baton Rouge and it is forecast to slowly drop to 3.4 feet by Aug. 1, according to the National Weather Service’s Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center.
“This is probably a worst-case scenario,” Kai Roth, senior hydrologist at the forecast center, said about the forecast. It assumes that there will be no rain in the upper Mississippi River or in the Ohio River valley, which isn’t very likely, he said.
The reason for the lower river levels has to do with rainfall, he said.
“The last couple years, our springs have been wetter than this year,” Roth said.
Although there have been many lower river stages at Baton Rouge, most of the time those low river stages are later in the year.
The current Mississippi River stage “is fairly low for this time of year,” Roth said.
On a list of 50 low-water records for the Mississippi River, only one occurred in July, back in 1988 at a level of 1.80 feet, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The remaining low-water records were set in September, October, November, December or January.
The lower water level hasn’t had an effect on travel between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, where deep-draft navigation channels exist, said Sean Duffy Sr., executive director of the Big River Coalition.
However, he said, concerns could arise upriver from Baton Rouge.
“It’s the shallow-draft areas that seem to have more problems during low water,” he said.
One trouble area is just north of Baton Rouge at Wilkerson Point near Southern University. There, the river takes a steep turn that can be challenging to navigate during high-water and low-water periods.
Karen St. Cyr, director of public affairs for the Greater Baton Rouge Port, said the port hasn’t seen any ships at the dock affected by low water. She said the deep-water channel and dredging by the Corps of Engineers means low river stages shouldn’t be a problem.
“If we got to zero (in the river), we’d still have 45 feet,” St. Cyr said, referring to the deep-water channel.
Although low water levels can create challenges for navigation in shallow parts of the river, so far, travel is continuing.
“American Waterways Operators and its members are closely monitoring the situation, but the low-water level as of yet is not stopping navigation,” said Mark Wright, vice president-southern region of The American Waterways Operators.
The American Waterways Operators is a trade association that represents owners and operators of barges, tugboats and towboats in the United States.
“We continue to regularly meet with a government-industry task force to discuss the ongoing issue and any concerns that may arise,” Wright said.