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Barge business on the Mo (Read 23130 times)
05/25/10 at 10:30:19
Osprey   Ex Member

There's a great article in the business section of today's Kansas City Star about barge business and how it may finally die on the Missouri River.  Now the Mississippi is a different story, but on the Missouri, it's all but done.  Interesting facts, well presented and pretty balanced.

If the United States Army Corps of Engineers were only managing the river for flood control instead of also commercial navigation, I wonder how the river would change, what it would do for the ecosystem, what it would even look like after a decade or two.  Interesting questions, for sure.

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Reply #1 - 05/31/10 at 21:09:32
Joewildlife   Ex Member


It does sound like river transportation on the MO is a thing of the past.  It was 15 years ago when it was told that rock, rock that was used to maintain the navigation channel, was the most commonly transported commodity on the MO River.  This article kind of confirms that.  Dare I post the link to the article?  I don't know any better so here it is:


I think the requirement to provide a navigable shipping channel during the summer and fall months, especially, is very detrimental to the river ecosystem.  HOWEVER, I cannot say for sure whether that use of the river is any worse or any better for the river than hydro and flood control.  Hydroelectric generation is absolutely destructive to a river system.  Flood control is absolutely destructive to a river system.  Navigation is absolutely destructive to a river system.  I will change that to ECOsystem. 

IF the upper MO was managed strictly for hydroelectric, we probably wouldnt notice the pulses down here in the lower river.  It might all even out by the time the water hit the MO state line.

A good flood and spring rise, is good for the river system.  A low flow in the summer is good for the system.  but that is when they want to make electricity, isn't it?

They want a full pool in the reservoirs during the summer for recreation, and that might not be a bad thing for us downstream...but is that compatible with hydroelectric generation?

I don't know.  But I will say that I think that navigation is among the most destructive uses of the Missouri river...so I wouldn't cry if it went by the wayside.  And then we wouldn't have to worry about the Coat Guard anymore, they wouldn't be a player anymore.

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Reply #2 - 05/31/10 at 21:23:52
Manitou Paddler   Ex Member

A perspective to consider on the whole barge debate...is that it is not just the mo river to consider.....the economic benefit of barge transportation and the environmental benefits in terms of fuel use, etc on the Mississippi River is hardly disputed by anyone......and the water from the Missouri River is critical at certain times of the year to provide flow for use of the Mississippi.....so river levels on the Missouri also are a factor on use on the Mississippi River from St. Louis down.....this is too often overlooked on the Mo river debate.

I believe we have a cake and eat it too potiential....with habitat construction and biodiversity goals and still work to protect from flooding and have some level of a channel and required flow....but for sure...we will have to revisit what all of these mean in the context of todays society.  ....the system was put in around the 1950's.....today is a very different time.

The upper Mississippi River (from St. Louis up) has done a good job of revisiting all of these issues and seeking compromise and shared goals........there is no one answer for these big river systems......but too often the debate on the Mo river is entrenched with hard positions dug in on all sides.....hard to get anywhere in that atmosphere.   

If it were simple to solve....it would have been worked out 20 years ago Huh

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Reply #3 - 05/31/10 at 22:23:38
Osprey   Ex Member

I certainly agree that this is not a simple issue.  Very complex.  But I wonder how many tax dollars are spent to keep the Missouri River navigable for commercial traffic and that business is far less contributory to the region's economy.  And, the feigned threat of competition to trucking and rail is not a contribution to the regional economy.  The other river-related industries contribute far more to their respective economies.

I just want our legislators, who give the playbook to the U.S. Corps of Engineers, to make an informed choice on whether to keep managing the river for commecial traffic or not.  But, I have yet to hear a good argument to continue federal subsidy and maintenance of barge traffic on the lower Missouri River.  In my opinion, it's time for our country to move on and not manage the Missouri River for commercial navigation.  I think the balanced article that's been linked on this thread does a nice job of helping people understand a hard reality.

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Reply #4 - 06/01/10 at 07:38:59
Manitou Paddler   Ex Member

as mentioned the flow of the missouri river has bearing on transport on the Mississippi.....even without barge use....the banks would be reinforced for flood control....As is a significant portion of many of our nations big rivers....my point is that removal of barges does not magically throw the river back to pre-European state.

There are way more factors than transport that bring the corps to the river....flood control being a major one....but also flow, infrastructure access to water, irrigation, 8 dams, hydro power, recreational use, issues of interbasin water transfer

way more than just barge or no barge

and a proper analysis could benifit from looking at what we spend to maintain roads and bridges...and even wildlife impacts of roads and hard surface run off

not defending any one if these modern Infrastructures....I am just reminded of the complexity of the issue...we have changed the face of our planet......and will have to balance all these needs....Imagine the environmental benifit of no cars....yet how are we gonna do that?

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Reply #5 - 06/01/10 at 07:55:16
brwa175   Ex Member

I encourage everyone to participate in the public meetings regarding re-evaluation of the authorized uses (this is a US Army Corp term) for the MO River. Several are being held this week. One today in Jeff City, one tomorrow in KC. For a full schedule.
http://www.mraps.org/events At these meetings one can provide comments on how they think the river should be "managed" (again a Corps) term.  Public comments do matter to how this plays out so if you have the time, then become involved. Meetings are usually held in the evening 5-8ish.
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Reply #6 - 06/01/10 at 11:52:26
Osprey   Ex Member

Hey BH, I think you might have read too deeply into my post.

I do fully understand the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a larger mandate than commercial navigation maintenance.  And, I do understand that many other "management" activities would continue.  I did not communicate that all the rest of the mantenance activities would go away if commercial navigation ended on the lower Missouri River.  And I certainly didn't suggest to "magically throw the river back to pre-European state."

My primary point was, some USACE "management" activites would not be necessary if commercial navigation ended.  The level of those terminated activities would have to be determined, but it would save tax dollars and reduce strain on limited resources that aren't balanced by the economic contribution by the Missouri River barge industry, and allow them be be redirected to USACE activties that should be of a higher priority.

Wouldn't it be logical to take any of the resources gained and apply them to the disasterous state of the U.S.'s levee system, which the USACE helps maintain.  In Sacramento, we are just a small earthquake away from a levee disaster that will make the infrastructure failure in New Orleans look like a water-main break (that's not hyperbole).  Dallas' levees have been assessed as deficient, which currently holds back waters from a significant portion of the downtown area.  Nearly 30% of all levees in the South are deemed deficient and 59% of all levees in the West are also deemed deficient by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.  This post-Katrina assessment by the USACE will cause FEMA to redraw the flood maps within the next two years and cause billions of dollars worth of property and industry to be uninsurable if they are behind a levee deemed deficient.

By way of disclosure, I work for an infrastructure engineering firm that works closely with the USACE, but we're trying very hard to educate Americans and lawmakers of the serious threat the deficient levee system poses.  

I've attached an interesting fact sheet my department put together and a link to a webpage we've created to provide some education and information about the risk our country faces due to this serious levee problem.  Some really good links on the right side of that page.


In sum, I simply want Congress to think a bit more holistically when they consider our nation's water infrastructure.  I contend that some resources can be reallocated to higher-priority needs if commercial navigation on the lower Missouri River were allowed to end.


Levee_Fact_Sheet.pdf (Attachment deleted)
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Reply #7 - 06/01/10 at 17:06:06
brwa175   Ex Member

I suggest that regulated flows in the MO River have little bearing on Mississippi River flows—except in very dry years. The barge traffic argument for the MO is only valid if the economic benefits outweigh the costs, which, although I'm not an expert in this field, would guess (given the current tonnage that goes up and down the MO) is not the case.

I would also further suggest that the levee systems do as much harm as they do good when it comes to flooding. Certainly there are some who would disagree with this statement (those folks who have property behind them but not so much those folks who have to live downstream from them). Full disclosure: I have no financial stake in whether levees get built or not.

Comments to the proposed changes to how your Missouri River will be managed can also be provided online. Anyone who uses the river has a stake in how it's 'managed'. And, it is your river as much as anyone else's and your tax dollars at work.
15 minutes is all it takes http://www.mraps.org/comment-form
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Reply #8 - 06/02/10 at 15:55:23
Walt Birmingham   Ex Member

The cost in dollars spent to maintain a navigation channel per ton of freight moved would be an interesting figure to hear. But its not one that I have ever heard discussed.
Farmers on the lower river want flood control and as a person flooded out in '93 I can identify with that.
Ranchers on the upper river want irrigation rights. Power companies want access to cooling water for their power plants and some communities use the river for drinking water. I'm not at all sure what the Native Americans want beyond a say over a natural resource they consider (and rightfully so) at least partly their own.
Conservationists, ecologists and recreational users all have agendas that to varying extents clash with many of the above uses. And over it all is a huge federal bureaucracy as ponderous as anything ever created.
The only thing harder than getting an entity like the Corp. to actually do something is getting them to change course or stop doing something. Would be like trying to turn a supercarrier with one of our canoes as a tug.
As much as I would like to see a more level headed approach to the future of the Missouri river I have little hope of the warring factions ever getting together in a spirit of compromise and trying to take a look at the problems from each other's viewpoints.
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Reply #9 - 06/02/10 at 21:07:32
Manitou Paddler   Ex Member


you have a better grasp of the situation than most so called experts

the hope is that we can at least use the corps to engineer some biodiversity ....tell an engineer to create something to a set of parameters and add funding....and you better step back.....the biggest issue they had with this a few years back when creating shallow water habitat is that they did not let anyone know the what or why in regards to all the heavy equipment they had out on the banks....the corps handles public relations like a Neanderthal with a sledge hammer (my apologies to all the Neanderthals out there....not fair to you Tongue)

as long as you maintain their budget....the corps will do anything ....I once saw a project where they dumped sand on a barge and grounded it to make a artificial island for nesting birds.....true story....was on upper Mississippi river....engineers can be scary....I know....I was educated as one Smiley
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