Too much water: Paralysis on the nation’s most valuable waterways

    The devastating flooding that has submerged large parts of the Midwest and South this spring has also brought barge traffic on many of the regions’ rivers to a near standstill.

    The water, including parts of the Mississippi River north of Louisiana, is too high and too fast to navigate, The New York Times reports. Shipments of grains, fertilizers and construction supplies are stranded. And riverfront ports have been overtaken by the floods and severely damaged.

    The Arkansas River has been closed to commercial traffic. So has the Illinois River, a key connection to Chicago and the Great Lakes. And so has part of the Mississippi near St. Louis, where it crested on Sunday at its second-highest point on record, cutting off the river’s northern section from shippers to the south.  

    At the Port of Baton Rouge, the high water has caused the port to close its grain elevator, drastically slowing the port’s ability to unload and transfer grain from vessels. Deepwater vessels here also face restrictions, due to the high water and resulting fast currents.

    Even if the rivers across the country reopen to barges in the next few weeks, the effects on the economy could linger. Never has so much of the river system been closed for so long at such an important time of year.

    “We thought it was as bad as it was going to get” weeks ago, said Debra Calhoun, a senior vice president at the Waterways Council, an industry group. “The forecast just continues to be horrid.”

    With supply chains disrupted, warehouses overflowing and shippers turning to more expensive ways to move goods, consumers could see higher prices and shortages of some products in the summer and fall. Read the full story.

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