97 Boats Stranded on Sluggish Mississippi
Drought causing ships to run aground in vital artery
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2012 4:27 AM CDT
A tow pushes a barge past a sandbar on the Mississippi River near the confluence with the Missouri River north of St. Louis.    (AP Photo/Jim Salter)
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(Newser) – The drought is drying up the mighty Mississippi as well as farmers' fields. An 11-mile stretch of the river has been closed due to low water levels, stranding 97 boats while dredging is carried out, and navigation markers are replaced, CBS reports. Officials say it's not clear when the river, which transports $160 billion of cargo a year, will be reopened. A vessel ran aground in the now-closed stretch near Greenville in Mississippi, and there have been multiple other groundings upriver near Memphis.

The same stretch was closed in 1988, when a drought caused the river to sink to a record low. Near Memphis, where water levels are 12 feet below normal, the US Army Corps of Engineers dredger Hurley is at work removing up to 5,000 cubic yards of sediment per hour. "If we lose the river system, it's just like losing the interstate highway system," its captain tells Fox News. "Commerce is a vital part of our nation. This is a main artery for commerce."