A new National Weather Service forecast projects water levels on the Mississippi River will keep dropping over the next several weeks. The outlook comes amid worries barge traffic could soon be affected along the vital shipping corridor. NWS hydrologists say the Mississippi River at Saint Louis will fall to about 9 feet by the end of December, and, barring significant rainfall, another six inches in the first week of January. Months of drought have left levels up to 20 feet below normal along a 180-mile stretch of the river from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill.
Barges are already carrying lighter and more frequent loads, and some operators say they’ll halt shipping if they face more restrictions from reduced water levels. Barge industry trade groups say a prolonged stoppage of Mississippi River shipping could have an economic impact in the billions of dollars.