Updated Thursday, December 27, 2012 at 07:46 PM
ST. LOUIS — The Mississippi River level is dropping again and barge-industry trade groups warned Thursday that river commerce could essentially come to a halt next week in an area south of St. Louis.
Mike Petersen of the Army Corps of Engineers said ice on the northern Mississippi River is reducing the flow more than expected at the middle part of the river that is already at a low-water point unseen in decades, the result of drought.
The Coast Guard remains confident the nation’s largest waterway will remain open. But officials with two trade groups — the American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council. — said in a joint news release that even if the river is open, further limits on barges will bring commercial traffic to a halt.
The trade groups renewed their call for presidential action requiring the Corps of Engineers to increase the flow of water from an upper Missouri River dam in South Dakota. The corps cut the flow by two-thirds in November because of drought in that region, reducing the amount of Missouri River water flowing into the Mississippi.
Experts say that if barges stop moving, the potential impact on shipments of essentials such as corn, grain, coal and petroleum could reach into the billions of dollars.