U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said the Obama administration has assured him “every option is on the table” if blasting away rock structures fails to keep the drought-depleted Mississippi River open for barge traffic.
Durbin, who met today with representatives of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and industry groups affected by low levels on the river, said options may include an appeal to the White House to increase the flow of water from the Missouri River into the Mississippi, or the pursuit of a court order seeking the same result.
“We’re at the mercy of the weather, and if the weather continues to cooperate, with rain and the like, then we should be able to get through this difficult period,” the Illinois Democrat told reporters today in a drizzle in East Alton, Illinois, alongside the Mississippi, the nation’s busiest waterway. “If not, we’ll have to consider other options.”
The Corps today began blasting rock structures in the riverbed, called pinnacles, along a 15-mile stretch of the Mississippi near Thebes, Illinois, to help keep the river open, part of a plan that includes dredging.
The blasting, which was expedited at the request of Durbin and other lawmakers, is expected to take 30 to 45 days, during which barge traffic will be restricted from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The Army Corps on Dec. 6 rejected a request from shippers to increase the flow of water from the Missouri. Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil, siding with officials from the Dakotas, Kansas and Montana, said unleashing water stored in reservoirs along the Missouri would put drinking supplies and wildlife at risk and may raise hydropower bills.
Last week, the agency began to increase the flow from Carlyle Lake on the Kaskaskia River system in southwest Illinois, which it said may add six inches of water to the lowest point in the Mississippi.
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