The low water level of the Mississippi River is exposing sandbars and inhibiting barge traffic to and from ports. Barges and boats waiting to enter the Madison Parish Port can be seen from the air on Wednesday. / Ben Corda/The News-Star
Greg Hilburn, The News-Star
The Mississippi River level at Vicksburg, Miss., dropped to a daily record low Wednesday, dipping below a foot at the gauge there.
Though the level on the Vicksburg gauge bobbed to as low as 0.95 feet various times throughout the day, the channel, though narrowing, remains at least 9 feet or deeper throughout the system. The official level at Vicksburg on Wednesday will likely be recorded at 1.1 feet.
"It looks like a coastline out there," said Reynold Minsky, president of the 5th Louisiana Levee District board. "There are more beaches on the river than there are in Florida."
The previous record low on the Vicksburg gauge for Aug. 1 was 2.8 feet set in 1988, said Drew Smith, a hydraulic engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Vicksburg District. The all-time record low was minus 1.6 feet set on July 13, 1988.
"We're definitely setting daily records now," Smith said. "We may not get the all-time record, but we're going to at least scare it."
A temporary rise, called a bump or bubble, will give the river a short-term 4.0- to 4.5-foot lift beginning this weekend, but Smith said it will pass through quickly.
"That came from rains in (the Ohio Valley) last weekend," Smith said. "It was originally forecast at 5 to 6 feet, but they've been overshooting the rise at every station. You're not going to get the same rise downstream as up because the river widens and deepens and spreads out more.
"There's no more rain in the forecast to drive it up, so we'll be right back where we are now within two weeks."
The low levels have played havoc with navigation in the narrowing channel and river ports. The Lake Providence Port is closed until the corps returns the Dredge Butcher to clear the channel to its harbor, and other ports face similar setbacks.
This month Lake Providence Port Director Wyly Gilfoil joked that he had seen a kayak run aground.
"Navigation is the primary issue," Smith said. "In 1988 some sections of the river had to be closed and other sections were one-way barge traffic and daylight only."
But Smith said the low levels have allowed the corps to better assess the impact of the Great Flood of 2011, where the level in Vicksburg and other points along the river reached all-time highs.
"We're finding that the river was changed a lot by last year's flood," he said.