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The Rhine Is Inches From Being Too Shallow for Shipments

An oil tanker sails past dry banks on the Rhine River near Oberwesel, Germany, on July 14.

An oil tanker sails past dry banks on the Rhine River near Oberwesel, Germany, on July 14.

Photographer: Alex Kraus/Bloomberg

As Europe bakes in a heatwave, about 14 1/2 inches of water are now all that’s preventing parts of the continent from being effectively cut-off from supplies of vital commodities.

That’s the gap -- just under the height of a bowling pin -- between the current water level at a key bottleneck on the Rhine in western Germany and the point at which barges can usefully navigate the river. A further drop is forecast for tomorrow -- though it’s less than two inches.