St. Louis, MO (KSDK) - When you hear about historic low levels of water on the Mississippi you might think that doesn't really affect you. You might think that, but you'd be wrong. If barge traffic doesn't get through, the result could be higher prices at the grocery store and at the gas pump. Not to mention the 16,000 jobs on the line.
A towboat captain says the Mississippi is down 4-6 feet and falling fast. If he gets laid off, he would have to find another river to work, which would keep him from his family 30 days at a time.
"There's really nothing I can do about it, but it wouldn't be good to lose get laid off or lose my job right before Christmas," says the captain who does not want to be identified.
He has been working in the industry for more than a decade and has never been laid off or even thought about it, until now. The river's level is low and decreasing day by day and the amount of product being shipped has been cut in half.
"Everybody is working twice as hard right now, because the companies are trying to get all of the barges out that they can," he says.
They load the barges and measure it by feet in the water, so the heavier the load the lower the barge will sit in the water. Six months ago the barges were sitting 12 feet deep and now just 8 feet in the water.
The captain admits he's worried about his job but there are thousands just like him.
The American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council, Inc. is reporting that if the river traffic slows or stops completely Missouri is at risk of losing nearly 3,000, Illinois 6,652 and the state of Louisiana more than 7,000 jobs.
The captain explains this is not just an industry problem, it's an economical problem.
"If the coal can't get to the electric companies, if the grain can't get to where it's going, fuel everything, all the price of everything will sky-rocket," he explains.
The captain says hauling commodities by rail or truck costs twice as much and if the river freezes, which the shallower it is the easier it is to freeze, then the captain says, there could be no barge traffic at all.
"It just looks like it's going to be a long winter," he says.
The captain says last time his company laid off folks was the floods of of 1993. So what next? Local and state lawmakers are urging President Obama to step in and help them out.