Low River Levels Raise Political And Economic Concerns

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ST. LOUIS, MO. (KPLR) - River levels are causing a flood of concern from the Midwest all the way to the nation's capitol.  Area congressional leaders put their heads together to try to figure out how to keep the Mississippi from shutting down.

And now, Illinois American Water is taking emergency preparations to make sure customers don't lose water.

The company is investing nearly $400,000 dollars at the East St. Louis water treatment plant so it can access deeper water levels on the river.

The company also wants to build a protective wall to protect a temporary intake they plan on using until spring.

The coast guard says the Mississippi River water level in St. Louis is about two feet below normal; but is expected to drop to about 6 feet in the next two weeks.

News 11's Dan Gray talked with Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin about how he and other leaders are trying to keep the situation from getting worse.

And that may involve President Obama declaring an emergency for the Mississippi River.

Durbin and a group of senators from Iowa and Minnesota met Thursday with The Army Corps of Engineers to talk about the river's historic low level that could threaten to bring barge traffic to a halt.

The corps of engineers told the senators that the agency cannot legally increase the Missouri River's flow into the rain starved Mississippi.  

Last week the corps took action to reduce the flow from the Missouri.  Senator Durbin is asking the agency to tweak that decision to keep the Mississippi River navigable.

Several other political and business leaders are calling on President Obama to declare an emergency to avert a shutdown of commercial navigation on the Mississippi River.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster sent a letter to the president, saying if barge traffic is eliminated on the Mississippi, there will be catastrophic consequences to the economy.  

Barges carry nearly 60 percent of the country's grain exports, 22 percent of its petroleum and 20 percent of its coal on the Mississippi.

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