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UACOE using Corps dustpan dredges to maintain safe navigation paths along historically low Mississippi River

Posted on November 20, 2023

As water levels remain low on the Mississippi River, experts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are working to create safe pathways for travel along the major body of water.

In early October, the river hit historic low levels for a second consecutive year, prompting an uptick in dredge activity to create depth for barges to have a defined lane to reach destinations.

Leah DeYoung, Dredging Unit Chief at the USACE Vicksburg District, told SuperTalk Mississippi News that the corps is congressionally authorized to provide a 12-foot navigation and has been working around the clock to maintain paths for safe travel.

To generate this depth, the corps uses dustpan dredges, which look like boats, but act like shop vacs, on the Mississippi River.

“They use water jets to squirt the bottom of the river to turn that harder mud into a slurry, then they vacuum it up and they send out a pipeline that goes out of the back of the dredge,” DeYoung explained. “We place that dredge material that shoots out of the back in swift waters so that the water will carry that dirt downstream, not to create any other problems, but to get it moving because the quicker that it moves, it won’t settle at the bottom of the river.”

The dustpan dredges are able to open up 300 feet of riverways at a 30-foot width within one hour. According to DeYoung, the dredges are sometimes used for 24-hour periods.

While dredging is a viable bandaid for the issue at hand, for now, DeYoung asserts that rain is the ultimate solution to restore the river to adequate levels.

“Rain is the answer, but it’s tricky because the rain we’re seeing this week and next week in Vicksburg and in Mississippi doesn’t help that much,” DeYoung continued. “It will give us — maybe — a couple of inches in the river.”

A few stints of heavy rainfall in regions such as St. Louis and the Ohio River Basin that provide a direct flow down the Mississippi would be the quickest fix for travel woes along the second-longest river in North America.

The Mississippi River at Vicksburg and Greenville is currently at a 5, or low stage, on the National Weather Service’s gauge.


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