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Low River Levels Impact Tourism and Shipping in Iowa

The Mississippi River often called “The Mighty Mississippi” has been everything but mighty recently. Lack of precipitation in the Midwest has caused the river’s water levels to reach lows not seen in several decades. The nation has been plagued by supply chain issues for a while now, and experts say this drought is making it worse. Shipment of goods is not the only thing that is being affected. Cruises carrying tourists that used to go up and down the river are no longer able to run because the water is too shallow. This causes cities along the river, like Davenport, to lose a significant amount of tourism.

Ethan Hachfeld, a supply chain management major at St. Ambrose University, commented on how the drought will ultimately hurt consumers worldwide. “Although farmers will suffer first because of shipping prices and not being able to sell as many crops, consumers will eventually be forced to pay more for certain products,” said Hachfeld. “I know a lot of corn, soy, and wheat is shipped on the Mississippi. Some of that is exported to other countries. The inevitable shortage coupled with high shipping costs is sure to increase the price of all goods shipped on the river. When farms struggle, the whole world feels it.”

The main industry affected by Mississippi’s water levels in agriculture. It is currently harvest season. With larger barges getting either stuck in the mud or being halted, shipment of crops has slowed to a crawl. Some smaller vessels are still able to transport goods, but the shipping rates have increased. Also, these smaller ships cannot hold as much product.

Some communities along the river, like Davenport, may experience varying degrees of economic problems due to the river being so low. According to an article by Sarah Stringer on b100quadcities.com, the website for a local radio station, Davenport is going to experience less tourism due to cruise ships not being able to pass through. Stringer mentioned how there was a good amount of tourism from the river earlier in the summer, but it has already started to dwindle.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the river is about 8 feet below its average level around Davenport. It is as many as 11 feet below its normal level further south. There are some areas of the river where the water will not even get that deep, so there are completely dry parts. There are up to 3,000 barges, which can carry the same amount of cargo as 210,000 semis, that are backed up because of this.

One might wonder how the river got so drastically low. The most common explanations are that climate change has affected precipitation in the last year and that growing cities and large-scale farming operations are using up more freshwater than ever before. The Mississippi contains millions of gallons of water, so it would be nearly impossible for it to completely run dry. There would have to be a nationwide drought that lasts for many years.

It is not all bad news though. While the future looks bleak with slowed shipping, drops in tourism, and farms struggling to make profits, there is an end in sight. The river will likely return to normal levels in the spring. According to the National Weather Service, ice and snow melting along the northern banks of the river and inevitable spring rainfall will increase the river’s height significantly. While economies, consumers, and farmers will all suffer for a short period, these effects will not be felt for too long. At this point, it is a waiting game for the river to recover naturally.

David Girgenti is a staff writer for The Buzz.