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. aloha33

    Now here comes the prize tag we refused to pay for protecting our enviroment. Its always the same story, profits are being privatized and risks/costs are being socialized, let the taxpayer afford it, who cares as long as i can rent a yacht with pretty escorts...

    July 19, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Calling all good christians

    Do you have your bags packed or you luggage... has it been put away? your time has come to exit this lovely rock soon the rapture will be upon thee! say hello to god for me!

    July 19, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Obama Mama

      That is December 2012, right? So if it does not happen, will you set another date? I am getting tired of the date coming and going. I want to know if I should buy X-mas presents?

      July 19, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    221. Calling all good christians
    I'm not a christian, and you might wanna stop huffing laquer spray paint.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Calling all good christians

    I got to leave. I think I pooped my Depends.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rhamatul

    Western civilization is cheating small countries will flooding to kill us.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Philip

    Calling all voters. The man you voted for believes in a god, and also believes people who don't tow the line should be burned in hell forever.
    Why I don't vote. Every president/presidential candidate claims to be "christian" as if holy invasion of Iraq Iran next.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Church Of The Poisoned Mind

      You need to shut up about everything political going on in this country. A coward of the highest order is one who hides behind his keyboard carping on our politi tians then does nothing to change it by voting. IT IS THE ONE SMALL THING YOU CAN DO TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Don't want to do it? Be quiet, then. And move. Soon.

      July 20, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. wrong

    Umm, actually Don, it is you who is wrong. During solar cycles the sun does not actually get hotter, solar flare and storm activity increases. And, if you did your math (which you apparently didn't), you would see that if you add 11 to 1959 and continue on, that would have made for severe droughts in 1982 and 1993 if your theory held true. By the way, I'm a liberal and I work.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. wrong

    Don, you should also probably learn how to spell "pseudo" and "drought". A "draught" is a beer.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ytilaer

    comparing april and july water levels. apples and oranges?

    July 19, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Lee Oates

    Denial right to the end. The Naked Ape is a wonder to behold.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. TruthSeekerHarrison

    Glad the GMO corn is dying and the GMO soy, good bye. Now plant some non-hybrid Heirloom corn.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. LilChris

    Love that comment show's you have the urge and feelings for America and our world to be a beta place

    July 20, 2012 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
  13. sunar from indonesia

    its just hell leak heat

    July 20, 2012 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
  14. Githm

    ' old man rivahhh, you down to a slivahhh '

    July 20, 2012 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
    • 2 interested


      July 20, 2012 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
    • lyrical

      You ain't rollin along no moh....
      de fishes dey a gaspin.....
      de wata its not lastin....
      oh ol man rivvahh....where eva did ya go?

      July 20, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  15. M Lancaster


    July 20, 2012 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
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