By Alex Fees
THEBES, Ill. (KSDK) - On Monday, US Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Bill Enyart, both of Illinois, got a tour of the work the Army Corps of Engineers is doing on the Mississippi River near Thebes, Illinois.
Corps officials have contracted with crews to blast the jagged edges of limestone pinnacles on the river bed, which have become a hazard to passing barges with recent unprecedented low water levels.
"The good news is we are making steady progress. There are no threats to closing down commerce on the Mississippi River," Durbin said.
Durbin said the U.S. Coast Guard has invested $9 million into the effort to keep the river channel passable.
"In fact, there are several things we're counting on," said Durbin. "This warmer weather that's coming in is going to melt some of the snow and ice, releasing some water downstream. Secondly, we believe there will be some rain coming our way soon."
Durbin was asked about the prospect of getting a release of water from the Missouri River system. He said officials don't have to do that yet, due to a recent release from the Carlyle Lake reservoir system in Illinois.
Durbin said while a while a release from the Missouri River is not yet necessary, he would not expect it to come without a court fight.
"The federal government built this Missouri River reservoir system in late 1940's and early 50's," said Durbin. "It was a federal investment with a federal purpose. And the purpose was spelled out in law-the water was to be used for the following purposes: navigation, water sources, irrigation, power generation, recreation, just to mention a few. But whenever the Army Corps turns to release this water, the locals say, 'Don't touch it!' And then they have to look at the federal law which limits what they can do. But the White House has said in an emergency we will not rule this out. But we anticipate a court contest over our authority to release it under the law."
Durbin also said officials at the Army Corps of Engineers told him they are holding some water upstream that can still be released.
"I know that the President is viewing this very personally, very seriously," said Durbin. "Two weeks ago in a staff meeting he raised this question-what's going on with the Mississippi River? At which point I got in touch with the White House and we started working with the agencies. And their basic message to me was do what it takes to keep that river open."
Representative Enyart said for the next 60 days the only source of soybeans and corn in the world is right here.
"This is where we're feeding the world," said Enyart. "And if we can't get those soybeans and corn down then the consumers of those agricultural products are in trouble. Until crops from Brazil and Argentina and some of the South American countries in the southern hemisphere start coming in, we want to make sure we get those products to market; that we make those sales, so we keep that money flowing in to our economy."
Durbin said global warming plays a role in what is happening in the middle of America.
"We've had 27 straight years of up-tick in the temperature on earth," said Durbin. "There's a message from God that says things are changing. We've got to do things to avoid the disasters of the future where we can, and to live with change circumstances where we have to."
U.S. Coast Guard Captain Byron Black said the area near Thebes has had river closures of 16 hours a day for several weeks due to blasting and low water levels. But officials there have been able to clear the back-up of barges most mornings.
"According to the forecast we're looking at right now," said Captain Black. "We expect to be able to maintain a 9-foot navigation draft through the end of the month. And that's based on a no-rain forecast."