Drought forcing workers to dredge Mississippi River

(WMC-TV) - The water is dangerously low on the Mississippi River and that is forcing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spend nearly $7 million dredging the river to keep barges moving and ports open.

The dredging operation is poised at the foot of Beale Street Landing and any day now, a crane will start digging in and hauling away river debris.

The Mighty Mississippi is known for her capricious ways.

"You're going to have the river rise and fall," said Ryan Gomez, of the U.S. Coast Guard. "It's part of the cycle of the river."

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the river's level dropped to -7.29 feet Monday.

The lowest it's ever been is -10.7 feet. The highest: 48.7 feet.

"The river fluctuates 57 feet maximum, at least historically," said Benny Lendermon, of the Riverfront Development Corporation.

The Coast Guard is surveying the area and adjusting the buoys to make sure boats don't run aground.

The American Queen is scheduled to stop in Memphis again in early August, but Coast Guard officials say the ship shouldn't have any problems.

"As long as they stay within the buoys, they should be within safe waters to navigate," said Gomez.

Lendermon says Greenbelt Park gives Memphis an edge over other cities along the Mighty Mississippi because The American Queen can dock there at a water level lower than it can in any other port.

"So if they're on the river, they can dock in Memphis," he said. "They can dock in Memphis, take their supplies in Memphis, get on and off without much problem at all."

The dredging, which should last a week or two, won't interfere with The American Queen's trip on the river.

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