Mississippi River at historic low for second consecutive year, disrupting barge traffic and threatening drinking water

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The Mississippi River is at a historic low for the second consecutive year, disrupting barge traffic and threatening drinking water for thousands of people.

The water level at Memphis fell to a record-low elevation of minus 11.5 feet on Wednesday afternoon, according to data from the National Weather Service.

Several other records were set this weekend along the Mississippi and its major tributary, the Ohio River.

The low water has again sparked concerns for barge traffic during the critical harvest period, when staple Midwestern crops including soybeans, corn and wheat are transported down the river.

The historic lows are a product of an exceptional drought that is plaguing parts of the South and Midwest.

Multiple days of heavy rain this week across the upper basin of the Mississippi River and lighter rain over the Ohio River Valley will cause the central and lower Mississippi River to rise a few feet.

Water from recent rain will take roughly a month to course through Midwest waterways into the Mississippi and then snake its way down to where the river meets the Gulf.

In Louisiana, the low flow has been allowing saltwater to creep up the Mississippi River this summer, threatening to infiltrate the water treatment systems.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been extending an underwater levee in the river to slow the advance of the saltwater.

The parish officials upstream work to build pipeline systems that can draw freshwater into their intakes.

Rain from a separate storm system this week over southern Louisiana also won’t make much of a difference for river levels or the saltwater infecting water supplies there.

Better-than-forecast river flows in September slowed the saltwater’s upstream trek, and the Army Corps now expects the saltwater to reach the city’s smaller water treatment intakes by late November.

The large water treatment intakes around New Orleans – including the Carrollton intake, which serves most of the city – might not see saltwater inundation through the end of November, if at all.

The historic low water levels on the Mississippi River are a serious concern for both the economy and the environment.

The low levels are disrupting barge traffic, which could lead to higher prices for goods and services. The low water levels are also threatening drinking water for millions of people in Louisiana.

The low water levels are a product of an exceptional drought, which is likely caused by climate change.

Climate change is making extreme weather events more common and more severe. We need to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.