Mississippi River reopens after dredging

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Another stretch of the Mississippi River south of St. Louis was closed to barge traffic most of the day Monday to allow dredging to deepen the waterway, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

A four-mile stretch near the mouth of the Meramec River -- from mile marker 162 to mile marker 158 -- was closed from 3 a.m. until 6:45 p.m. Monday, said Chief Petty Officer Scott Vincamp of the U.S. Coast Guard. A three-mile stretch from mile marker 168 at the Jefferson Barracks Bridge just south of St. Louis to mile marker 165 was closed for dredging from Friday until 9 p.m. Sunday, the Coast Guard said.

Barge traffic was allowed to pass during the six hours the river was open late Sunday and early Monday, Vincamp said. Any further dredging would depend on future river levels, he said.

A federal court recently ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to lower the flow of the Missouri River -- which meets the Mississippi in St. Louis -- after a lawsuit brought by environmentalists. For three days beginning Aug. 12, the corps slowed Missouri River releases from 26,000 cubic feet per second, or cfs, to 21,000 cfs.

Conservation groups want the river to ebb and flow more naturally to encourage spawning and nesting to protect the least tern, piping plover and pallid sturgeon -- fish and shorebirds on the government's list of threatened and endangered species.

Chad Smith, of the nonprofit conservation group American Rivers, said the drought -- not the lower Missouri River levels -- caused the shutdowns.

"The severe drought is complicating navigation up and down the Mississippi River, not just the reach dependent on contributions from the Missouri River," Smith said. "The effect of the lowest flows ordered by a judge had already passed well downstream before the river below St. Louis was closed to navigation."

Smith said U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges show that the low water passed St. Louis on Saturday and Chester, Ill., on Sunday.

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