JUST like the Great Lakes, from which the Mississippi is fed, water levels are so low that it threatens to stop shipping altogether, putting billions of dollars in grain, coal, fertiliser and other commodities at risk.
Reuters reports that the National Weather Service expects water levels on the drought-stricken river to rise slightly between St Louis and Cairo, Illinois, but then continue to drop.
It said the low water was due to the worst drought in the US since 1956, and a further decline in river levels could bring commercial shipping to a halt very soon, warns the American Waterways Operators.
The council said earlier the river along the Cairo-St. Louis stretch would be too low for navigation by January 7.
Prime areas of concern are near the Illinois towns of Thebes and Grand Tower, where river-bottom rock pinnacles pose a risk to boats when the river is low.
"That reach has historically been the rock-bottom part of the river and pretty much everywhere else on the mid-Mississippi is sand- and silt-bottom," said US Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Petersen.
The corps has been dredging a number of soft-bottom sections of the river intensively for months to maintain a deep enough shipping channel, but a project to remove the most threatening rock pinnacles will not be finished until the end of January.
Asian Shipper News