By Grant Bissell

ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - For weeks now you've been hearing about low water levels on the Mississippi River. But now the story isn't so much about the water, but about what is just below the surface.

Barges moving along the Mississippi stay within a navigation channel. The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for keeping that channel clear.

An Illinois barge company says it hasn't had any problems in the channel so far, but the channel is only 15 feet deep in places and expected to drop. That could cause barges to hit the river bottom, causing slow-downs and an economic ripple effect.

The barges have to leave the channel to load and unload and that's the area of major concern. The barge company says hazards like gravel bars, metal, concrete, even old sunken boats are becoming exposed by the low water levels.

The Coast Guard is responsible for clearing things outside the navigation channel that are environmental hazards. But if the obstacles aren't an environmental danger, it's up to private companies to clear the way.

Minor run-ins with these obstacles means crews are spending more time and money making repairs to their vessels.

A Coast Guard spokesman says crews haven't had to respond to any environmental hazards yet. But as river levels continue to drop he's expecting the Coast Guard to get busier.

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