Drought sends 'mighty Mississippi' river levels near record lows
An aerial photo of the Mississippi river shows sandy areas where water had been before the drought. The river's levels are now nearing record lows.
July 19th, 2012
04:02 PM ET

Drought sends 'mighty Mississippi' river levels near record lows

The "mighty Mississippi" has lost some of its might with the season's epic drought taking its toll on river levels, which are falling to near historic lows.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will spend nearly $7 million dredging in an attempt to keep ports operational and keep the river open for barge traffic in the coming weeks. River levels in Memphis have dropped to within three feet of their historic lows from the 1988 drought.

In just one year, the river has gone through extreme fluctuation. Last May, it was within a foot of its record-high crest because of massive flooding, and today it's 55 feet lower and experiencing historic lows due to drought.

Dramatic images taken from NASA’s Terra satellite show the swollen river in late April of last year compared with images from early July this year. The expanse of the water was over 3 miles wide in parts of Missouri and Arkansas as levees were blown up in order to help protect the town of Cairo, Illinois from flood waters. The image taken July 2012 this year shows a much different story with the river less than a half mile wide in spots.

NASA’s Terra satellite shows the Mississippi River late April 2011 compared with images from early July 2012.

New data from U.S. Drought Monitor issued Thursday shows the drought has worsened in the past week, and now ranks as the second worst drought in U.S. history over the lower 48 since records began in 1895.

Nearly 64% of the contiguous United States is now in moderate to exceptional drought, second only to the summer of 1934, the height of the dust bowl era. Nearly 40% of the corn crop is now considered in poor or very poor condition, and this went up a sharp 8% in only a week.

During the 2012 crop year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans. And on Monday the USDA designated 39 additional counties in eight states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat.

A dozen states on Thursday were under some sort of heat advisory or warning, many of them over the worst-hit drought areas. The heat wave is expected to last through much of the weekend, which means conditions will likely continue to worsen over the coming weeks.

And the Army Corps said that the shrinking of the Mississippi means that saltwater is beginning to work its way upriver, which could threaten some water supplies.

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That's not unprecedented, and there's no current threat to water supplies, but officials are prepared to start building an underwater barrier to block the denser saltwater from moving further upstream, Corps spokesman Ricky Boyett said Friday. The Corps last had to do that in 1999, he said.

soundoff (272 Responses)
  1. Leslie

    Now is the time to make all those repairs to levees and berms that hold back the mighty Mo during the flood times. Hope they are thinking of that.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim

      Not with my tax dollars you don't. That's socialism.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  2. sonotso

    No one will pay any attention to this; however, our leadership both Republican and Democrat are lunatics for not sponsoring huge lakes across our Country that will be filled when it floods. Sooner or later, we are going to have a drought that lasts long enough to destroy cities (it has come close in West Texas). Dam off the canyons and valleys, Run Pipelines from the overflow of Rivers (recall the recent flooding on the news). If we don't pay attention to whats going on and for God's sake get proactive, we are sunk. Proactive for those Politicians reading this means to "have enough insight to address an issue before its too late and/or while it is manageable.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brooky

      Ah, that isn't even remotely necessary. We've got more water here in Canada that we could ever use in a billion years. How does a buck a liter (quart to you) sound?

      July 19, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jim

    Floods to drought in 1 year.

    Extreme swings is what climate change looks like.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. capitalismiskool

    I see where the price of corn has risen because of this drought. Its a good thing the liberals want us to go to alternative fuels like ethanol that isn't made from corn and things like that. Imagine what would happen to the price of corn if we were? No! Imagine the threat to national security if this country were on ethanol?

    July 19, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim

      Ethanol is a corporate boondogle for the benefit of corporate farms.

      It takes more energy to produce one gallon of ethanol than that one gallon contains.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jim

    You don't hear anything that you don't agree with do you?

    The average temperatures of the last 328 consecutive months have been above that for the entire 20th century.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rascal Rabble

    proof is in the pudding...whenah the last time y'all wentah cherch???

    July 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • mwolfe

      Rude...and possibly clueless.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy¬©

      Going to church doesn't make you Christian any more than going into a garage makes me a car.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rascal Rabble

      beanie bani babie...church service rains down blessings, grace, and prosperity in the community...

      July 19, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Brian Mckinley

    Plenty of water in the great lakes. Build a pipeline to the midwest (jobs) then pay the great lake states for their water. Problem solved. You're welcome.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • canucken

      Great Lake water levels are already dropping and are causing concern for many towns situated along them. I hardly think siphoning off more water is a good idea.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • evolved one

      I do believe Canada would have a say in that scheme......

      July 19, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • phunk

      Great idea, should only take a few years so hopefully we have another drought in 2015 so it makes sense then. Now what about this year, genius?

      July 19, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      Who says the great lakes belong to a state?

      July 19, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • just_a_moderate

      Pinhead...international treaty covers those waters. They're not the property of farmers hundreds of miles away, they're not the property of Las Vegas developers...they're just not waters that can or should be turned to every time you need to address a water shortage.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mwolfe

    First of all....River should be capitalized.....Secondly, I live in a town off of the Mississippi......we are in great need of rain....our corn fields are pitiful.....cotton has now been planted, and it's withering as well....When people say, "Well, it doesn't affect me!" they will be reaping the lack of rains in the grocery stores come October!!!!

    July 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
  9. say what?

    If you get anything from this article, please get that the mississippi has been going up and down forever. No biggie. I understand that it makes news but don't make it any bigger than that

    July 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. The Enlightened One

    The Uneducated: People who think this "weather" just happens. Logic: There are proven scientific patterns of climate change. Whether it be manmade or natural, stop living in denial

    The Spiritualities: Believe God is punishing us with his wrath. Logic: If this were true he would've "punished" the world during WW1, WW2 or any other war for that matter. God is everloving to his creations, he wouldn't destroy them.

    The Logical: The world is changing, get used to it. Increasing wars, natural disasters and financial problems are only a few of the changes we can see today. It will get worse. Whatever belief you hold whether it be spiritual, political, what have you....2013 will be a whole new roller coaster ride so hold on tight.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. cw

    could this be part of a normal weather cycle?

    July 19, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • da da dale

      Possible. but only a fool would not look at both sides of an issue with an open mind.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. cliff

    Leave it to the CommieNewsNetwork to exaggerate the truth. The Old Miss is NOT at a record low.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • da da dale

      so I sould believe you, why?

      July 19, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. NWeiner

    Wow, a long way from when we had to consider opening the Morganza Spillway not too long ago.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jim

    They have known this for years its time to put people to work and start dredging.
    Time to rebuild America

    July 19, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • da da dale

      who is going to pay for the work......

      July 19, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Analoger

    This is a consequence of our actions, our haste to seek money, without seeking knowledge. I can only put it one way. Just as the human body has many parts and each part has a specific function so does the earth. Damage just one part and the rest suffer. There is such a reference similar to this in the bible. Oh well we have all been warned. Christ's love and mercy be with you all.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • WillyWalnuts

      So how do you explain the "Dust Bowl" & drought of the 1930's ? Darn humans consuming more than they deserve and ruining the earth? God Forbid there might be a simpler explanation – weather cycles – which is why the glaciers starting retreating from the Great Lakes area 15000 years ago... Global Warming due to what ?

      July 19, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • da da dale

      willywalnut
      the key work in you argurment it "might" be. If your wrong what then.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
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