Rock Blasting Set on Drought-plagued Mississippi River

Several hundred feet of sandbar can be seen north of the Mississippi River bridge in Greenville, Miss., Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012. The Dredge Jadwin, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers vessel is clearing out some of the silt and left over mud and debris from last year's record flood on the Mississippi River and cutting a deeper channel for barges and their towboats to navigate north of Greenville. Coast Guard Capt. William Drelling said Wednesday that authorities would inspect the channel near Greenville, then reset navigation buoys allowing barge traffic to resume on a limited basis as both federal agencies deal with the continued drought that has lowered the Mississippi River. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

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By Aaron Hepker

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Barge traffic along a key stretch of Mississippi River is now restricted as crews prepare to begin blasting large rock formations that have threatened shipping on the drought-plagued waterway.

The Army Corps of Engineers says contractors will undertake urgent demolition of the submerged granite pinnacles near Thebes, Ill. That means that portion of the river south of St. Louis is closed to shipping for all but eight hours each day.

Months of drought have left water levels up to 20 feet below normal along a 180-mile stretch of the river from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill. The problem worsened last month when the corps cut the outflow from an upper Missouri River dam by two-thirds, meaning far less water from the Missouri River flows into the Mississippi.

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