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September 17, 2014

Low river levels mean tighter restrictions, higher costs for barges leaving Minnesota

Extreme drought has taken a toll on barges traveling up and down the shallow Mississippi River in the southern United States.

The Des Moines Register reports another barge ran aground Wednesday, forcing shipping lanes to close. More than 100 barges and towboats are stranded, the U.S. Coast Guard said. Although low water levels aren’t an issue north of the Ohio River because of the lock-and-dam-system, those that ship by barge will have to ship lighter loads to avoid bottoming out.

Barges leaving Savage, Minneapolis or St. Paul could see tighter restrictions. Lee Nelson, President of Upper River Services Inc. in St. Paul, tells the Star Tribune that every inch a barge sinks below the water equals 17 tons of cargo. Empty space drives up the cost of shipping. “The fact that it’s partway empty, somebody’s got to pay for that,” Nelson said. “Whoever’s commodity it is, they’re the one who’s going to bear the brunt of that.”