The Mississippi River provides its share of challenges for tow pilots, navigating the tircky channels. Lately, low water is their biggest obstacle.
The Coast Guard recommends limiting the number of barges, and how low they sink into the water. But there's still a lot of activity on a ariver that's shrinking lately,which makes navigation even harder. So the Army Corp of Engineers is surveying the river, to find the deepest channel possible.
The Pathfinder is spending lots of time traveling the Mississippi near Ste. Genevieve. It's equipped with radar and sonar imaging, to "read" the bottom of the river.
"What we're doing here, is trying to find the channel for boats to get through," explains Capt. Walton Joggerst, as he points out barges stuck in the middle of the shallow river. This is a common problem these days on the upper Mississippi.
"It's up on a sand bar, so that's why they're taking the grain out, to lighten it and get barges off there," he says.
A check of his computer screen shows the Mississippi at 12 feet... and dropping. "When the water gets this low, though, it's hard to do anything," he finishes.
The Pathfinder already moved buoys over, to redirect barge traffic around the sand bar. The Pathfinder is about to see the first test of the new route... a small tow with empty barges. "They keep traffic going, you know, because of the money involved," says the Captain. But everyone is watching this test, to see if the Mississippi may have to be closed again.
"Even though they lightened the barges and stuff, the boats still draw a lot of water," he says. "If it moves to fast, they suck down in any kind of shallow water, which we'll prbably see here in a few minutes when this boat comes through."
All the while, the Pathfinders low-water alarm sounds, and Capt Joggerst keeps a close eye on the river. He's looking at deep ripples in the water, and color changes. "Those indicate shallow or deep; a change in the depth," he explains. "And you can actually see them from a distance."
The test pilot radios of low water, and warns he's actually touching bottom! "She's dragging right here where I'm at!" he radios. But he manages to push his empty barges on up river. The Pathfinder's sonar shows he made it through 8 feet of water. "He's in the clear, now," says Capt. Joggerst.
But with continued dry, cold weather up North... a falling Mississippi will cause headaches here in the Heartland.