WASHINGTON, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Sixteen U.S. senators have appealed to President Barack Obama to divert more water to the Mississippi River to prevent barge traffic from shutting down due to low water on the country's inland waterway, a crucial route for goods bound for export.
Low water is a looming disaster, said the senators in a letter to Obama that was released on Friday.
The senators, from states along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, asked for emergency action to release more water from Missouri River reservoirs to feed the drought-sapped Mississippi River.
Water levels are forecast to reach near-historic lows by mid-December, and shippers say low water will make it impossible to move cargo. Grain exporters have already slashed by up to 50 percent the weight of cargo shipped by barges on the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.
"Substantial curtailment of navigation will effectively sever the country's inland waterway superhighway, imperil the shipment of critical cargo for domestic consumption and for export, threaten manufacturing industries and power generation, and risk thousands of related jobs in the Midwest," wrote the senators.
Signing the letter were senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin of Iowa; Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill of Missouri; Mark Pryor and John Boozman of Arkansas; Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Mary Landrieu and David Vitter of Louisiana; Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi; Mark Kirk of Illinois; Lamar Alexander of Tennessee; Joe Manchin of West Virginia; and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been battling extreme low-water conditions on the Mississippi for months following the country's worst drought in half a century.