Shipping and Logistics

Flooding on the Mississippi forces lock closures

Written by Laura Miller

Flood-level waters have prompted the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to close locks on the Mississippi River.

This is an important development to consider, as the river system is a vital waterway for moving steel and lock closures could cause delays in shipping or receiving product.


According to the National Weather Service (NWS), a weather pattern began in May following drought conditions carried over from last year and reduced impacts from the spring snowmelt. The Upper Midwest, which includes the headwaters of the Mississippi, has since been hit with multiple thunderstorms and excessive rainfall that have caused flooding along the river system.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows major flooding of the river in Iowa and Illinois, and moderate flooding from Wisconsin to southern Illinois and Missouri.

A flood warning remains in effect in the St. Louis area, and a flood watch continues for portions of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan.

Additionally, the NWS expects Hurricane Beryl to bring even more heavy rain and flooding to the Lower Arkansas River Valley, the Middle Mississippi Valley, the Lower Ohio Valley, and the Lower Great Lakes through Thursday.

Lock system closures

Eight of the 12 Mississippi locks operated by the USACE’s Rock Island District, which includes portions of Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri, are currently closed due to flooding. Note that the Upper Mississippi River has 29 locks in total.

The Army Corps expected parts of the river to crest as early as Monday, July 8, with others not expected to peak until this Friday.

A spokesperson for USACE’s Rock Island District told SMU on Tuesday that some of the locks in the district will reopen “in the next 3-5 days,” while the opening of others is still undetermined.

American Commercial Barge Line says some locks will not open until July 20.

River delays

SMU spoke with Margo Brock, president and chief operating officer of logistics management company Mercury Resources, about the situation on the Mississippi.

Delays on the “volatile” river have become so commonplace that barge operators now include provisions in their contracts to cover the costs resulting from delays. Brock said this has been happening for the last five years or so.

She noted that even partial lock closures for maintenance work can cause a backlog of barges and long wait times on the river.

The system of locks and dams on the Mississippi was built by USACE in the 1930s and 1940s. Like much of America’s infrastructure, the aging system has been underfunded. Full and partial maintenance closures seem to be happening more and more, Brock said.

While the Corps maintains a schedule of repairs for businesses to plan ahead, “the worst ones are the emergency closures when you can’t prepare for it,” she noted.

“Closing locks due to flooding is not an unusual occurrence,” according to the USACE spokesperson. Still, it can be tough to prepare for ahead of time or to predict when a reopening will happen.

Steel delays?

A spokesperson for U.S. Steel said on Tuesday that the company is “not experiencing an impact to our operations at this time.”

Other steelmakers did not respond to SMU’s requests for comment by the time of this story’s publication.

Laura Miller

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