Mississippi River Drying Up
Shipping industry shivers at the thought
By Liam Carnahan,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 30, 2012 6:16 PM CDT
A barge passes slowly past the exposed sandbars and through the shallow waters of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, Miss., Thursday, July 26. 2012.   (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

(Newser) – The worst US drought in 50 years is making the mighty Mississippi River dry up and could curb shipping there altogether, reports Time. Dry conditions mean narrower, shallower passageways, so shippers are lightening their loads to avoid running aground. That could be huge, because 60% of the country's grain exports and a fifth of its coal are shipped via inland waterways. A severe drought in 1988 made some parts of the river unnavigable, costing the shipping industry $1 billion.

"For the last two or three weeks, the phrase I keep hearing is, 'Close to 1988. Worse than 1988. Same as 1988,'" says an industry insider. This year may be even worse: If river traffic is shut down, it could cost the industry about $300 million ... a day. We're not there yet, though—thanks in part to Army Corps engineers who are dredging stretches to keep water levels at least 9 feet deep. Ironically, their funding comes from a relief act doled out last year to deal with flooding.