U. S. Army Corps of Engineers officials continue to monitor low water levels in the Ohio River. Hydraulic engineer Bryan Astifan said the river level at Cairo, Ill., is a barometer of how the Ohio River basin and the Upper Mississippi River basin is fairing in the drought.
Astifan said the river was close to 30 percent of normal levels in June.
“Normal for this time of year is about 10 to 15 feet higher than where we are currently at Cairo. Possibly some improvement during the summer and fall, but we do expect staying below normal at Cairo as a result of the extended dryness that would be likely this winter," he said.
Astifan said 2012 is the worst drought the Ohio River has experienced since 1988. Water levels are about five feet above what they were in 1988, but Astifan said that has been due to rain flowing down the river from Minnesota.
“This gap that you see between 1988 and 2012 is actually driven from water that has come from the upper Mississippi Valley. They’ve now joined into the dryness, and as a result the 28-day forecast from the National Weather Service shows a decline down to those that were experienced in the late summer of 1988," he said.
The Corps has been dredging the lower Ohio River’s main navigation channel to make sure water traffic isn’t affected by the low river levels. The U. S. Coast Guard is also on site to make sure channel buoys stay in place. Astifan said if levels drop much farther, vessels will have to pass through the Olmstead lock, which could cause minor navigation delays.