Barges, towboats unable to reach St. Paul due to Mississippi River flooding

April 22, 2019 05:39 PM

The high water on the Mississippi River this season is having an impact on businesses in Minnesota.

That's because navigation season on the river is about a month behind schedule.


This time of year, fertilizer and cement would be coming into Minnesota by barge for the upcoming growing and construction seasons, according to Lee Nelson, President of Upper River Services.

But the people who need those materials, namely farmers and construction workers, are still waiting because barges pushed by towboats have been unable to reach St. Paul due to a flooded Mississippi River.

RELATED: Hastings deals with high water while awaiting Mississippi's crest Monday

At Lock & Dam 3 in Welch, aside from the occasional recreational boat passing through, there's virtually no traffic going north or south on the Mississippi River these days.

"High flows and Mother Nature dictate our customers coming up river and this year seems to be an odyssey," said Tim Tabery, Lock & Dam 3's Lockmaster.

Normally, Taberry and his colleagues with the US Army Corps of Engineers would be at least a month into their season helping commercial and recreational boats navigate the Mississippi.

The average start date of navigation season is March 22.

But Lock & Dam 3 hasn't even seen a single towboat pushing barges in 2019.

RELATED: Water expected to continue rising on Mississippi in St. Paul

Spring flooding closed down several locks and dams further south on the river, preventing barges and towboats from traveling north.

"If [locks and dams] are closed downriver, we're not going to see any towboats coming upriver," said Taberry.

And, it appears, a late start to the season will likely get even later.

Right now in Welch, the Mississippi River sits at 681 feet above sea level.  

If it climbs to 683 feet, as predicted, Lock & Dam 3 would also be forced to close two commercial and recreational vessels.

"When we have high flows we can't get crops and other commodities up and down the river so it does hinder the economy a little bit," said Taberry. "This is not a good time to be on the Mississippi."

RELATED: Mississippi River nearing major flood stage near St. Paul

Prior to 2019, only once has a towboat not reached St. Paul this late in the year.

The latest date ever recorded for a towboat to reach St. Paul is May 11, 2001.

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Tim Vetscher & Paul Folger

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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