Cargo is slowing down as the Mississippi River continues to dry up. Most cargo barges at the moment are loaded 35% below capacity so they will float higher in the water. Barge traffic has been cut by almost half.
The Mississippi River provides a crucial water highway for transporting crops. Drought conditions in the Midwest have lowered water levels on the Mississippi River to their worst depth since the late 1980s. Lower water levels make the movement of barges down the river costlier and slower. This is creating headaches for farmers and other industries that rely on the waterway to move their goods, according to a report by More Than Shipping.
The Mississippi River is responsible for $400 billion in industry and 1.3 million jobs in the United States. According to Jonathan Dunn who works for one of the largest barge operators in the nation, they would normally be running about 46 to 50 large-powered boats, but, they are now running about 25 – a drastic reduction. When the price to ship goes up, the value of goods goes down. The price will eventually trickle down to consumers.
This is going to show up as inflation for the end consumer.
There are currently many barges with soybeans, corn, and rice that have been waiting for weeks to get downriver. Plastics, fertilizers, and oils cannot get upriver. The low water levels have grounded some barges which further delays the barge traffic.
Much of the U.S. is experiencing a drought right now. The Southwest, which relies heavily on the Colorado River to supply water for cities and farms, is under extreme drought conditions as well, while Lake Mead and Lake Powell continue to dry up. Both lakes are expected to become “dead pools” in the next few years, which means California, Arizona, and Nevada will not be getting any more water from the Colorado River.
Supply chains and alternative water sources won’t be the only problems the U.S. faces because of prolonged drought conditions. Hydroelectric power generation could go down, collapsing the entire power grid.
Estimates suggest we’re currently in the 22nd year of the worst drought in the U.S. in 1,200 years, according to White Mountain Independent.