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. Coastie

    Im in the Coast Guard and stationed in STL.. So credible.. If this keeps up.. EVERYONE'S life in this country is going to change. Nobody ever understands that lack of water means commerce doesn't move up and down the Mississippi. There's so much that goes up and down the Mississippi, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio rivers that WILL affect your every day life once these rivers are non passable by barges and tug boats. Barges need 9 feet depth minimal to transit the rivers. It only takes ONE sandbar to change your life.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sam

    Why won't conservatives realize this is all connected to climate change?

    July 19, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Baldwin4884

    Capture the flood water and pump them to newly created lakes in the mid-west, but how do you water 2000 acres of corn?

    July 19, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. thanh

    Compare April to July? That is not compared apple to apple.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Zany Roberts

    "And in other news, the sun dropped below the western horizon this evening, a far cry from this morning, when it ROSE above the eastern horizon."

    Cue mass hysteria.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • glorydays

      Let's just ignore it and pray....

      July 19, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. BuckUpUS

    Water...........it's what will be fought over in the end.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. glorydays

    Of course it's not climate change. It's just God telling those destroying his earth he's REALLY disgusted with their greedy, sorry butts....

    July 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Major Tom

      I sincerely hope you're joking. If you're not, you're part of the reason why this is happening.

      July 19, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • ironman59

      WRONG. The drought has nothing to do with your fairytales stories and made up "gawd". It is cyclical climate change accelerated by man. Over building, greenhouse gases, solar cycles and much more have disrupted natural weather patterns on the entire planet.

      So, go back to your cave with your little book and let the enlightened world deal with the real problems.

      July 19, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ibetigetcensored

    "The News Folks and Global warmer's and 0bama say it's the end of time and the Mississippi Rivere shes a goin Dry!"
    Censored X 1

    July 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. decredico

    Short term 'snapshot' mentality is a fools pursuit when it comes to climate, water tables, and the like. This is some seriously flawed thinking here by CNN and the rest of the media to portray this as some biblical event.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • CA Liberal

      Record high last year, record low this year. Is this normal? Or has something gone wrong with the weather? Couldn't be climate change, that's just a liberal plot to destroy America. Right????

      July 19, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. thebigman205

    2012 end is near.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Brian

    Two straight days of thunderstorms in Western PA / Ohio / WV. The Ohio river will be giving the Mississippi a nice little deluge.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ibetigetcensored

    Anybody seen the weather today? The Lower Mississippi is getting Hamered..
    Where was the river picture taken? Check out the DATE on the NASA Photos. Come on, Data over a year old. Not impressed.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mabear87

    God is penalizing the phony evangelical Christians who are against gays and supporting a crook like Romney for their views. I bet Romney will blame the drought on Obama, totally ignoring global warming, just like he ignored the US Auto Industry and wanted them to fail/go bnkrupt. And most of those poorly educated midwesterners will vote for Romney and blame the drought on Obam, or whoever that illiterate, Rush Limbaugh will tell them to blame it on. Please fix the US education system so these people will understand climate change and how to make up their own minds as to who to vote for. I guess the red states are really communist after all, since their vote is brainwashed.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al

      wow..just...wow.. I though you were kidding at first, then I realized you were serious. I hope you haven't reproduced, god help us.

      July 19, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  14. john

    The river is low, be thankful, because at least it's not flooding everything in it's path causing destruction, death and taxpayers dollars to rebuild everything.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Philip

    Wow. Great article on the Mighty Mississippi. An in-depth look at even historic water levels for this most famous river.
    Now, exactly WHAT is in that water? Like pharmaceuticals. We know exactly how much of them there are, but we have yet to find out exactly what is in them.
    http://www.truthinlabeling.org is a group of concerned citizens raiseing money to lobby Congress into requireing pharmaceuitcal corporations to tell US exactly why addictive substances are found in most all antidepressants.
    Visit this website, and if you like what you learn, donate a dollar. Congressional bribes are expensive, as you know.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
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