Mississippi River Drought Gives Visitors Chance To Reach Historic Landmark on Foot

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by John Elk/Getty Images)

Mississippi River water levels are low all over, but they’re so low near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, that residents are able to reach a particular landmark on foot that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

Tower Rock is usually an island on the main channel of the Mississippi River. But with the extremely low water levels, the island has been uncovered. A dry stretch of land leading from the shore to Tower Rock is allowing residents to visit the once-isolated island.

People flocked to Tower Rock over the weekend. Footage from residents shows them crossing the spit of land connecting the shore to the rock. Kids collected shells and rocks from the usually submerged sandy areas. Additionally, others tried their hand at scaling Tower Rock itself.

Tower Rock can only be reached when the water level is at or below the 1.5-foot mark on the Chester, Illinois river gauge. On Monday, the gauge showed that the water was at 0.22 of a foot. Starting on Oct. 11, the water levels were consistently measured below 1.5 feet.

On Sunday, Oct. 16, so many people flocked to the river that there was a traffic jam stretching for miles.

Concerned Over Mississippi River Water Levels Began During Winter 2021

Michael Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transporation Coalition, said he was worried about the Mississippi River water levels as early as winter 2021. There was a distinct lack of snowfall over the Mississippi River basin. The river is crucial for soybean transportation, so Steenhoek’s organization has a stake in the river’s overall health.

“A lot of the water that you see on the lower Mississippi River, it originally starts as a snowflake in Montana,” Steenhoek told AccuWeather. He also said that the lack of snowfall “just continued to compound and of course summer we didn’t get much rainfall, so now we’re in the situation we’re in today.”

On Monday, the levels in Memphis, Tennessee were at the second lowest on record: -10.37 feet. The lowest recorded level is -10.7 from 1988. Additionally, salt water is now creeping up the Mississippi River basin because the levels are so low. Here’s how the Army Corps is dealing with it.

Farmers Dealing With the Worst of the Low Water Levels on the River Basin

Barges are running aground in the river, putting a halt to transportation and shipping of grains and soybeans. According to a report from AccuWeather, the Mississippi River accounts for the transportation of 92% of the United States’ agricultural exports. Additionally, it accounts for 60% of all US grain exports, and 78% of feed grains, which are currently being affected.

“It’s a really integral part of our overall economy, and it’s particularly so for agriculture,” said Steenhoek. Farmers and truck drivers are feeling the strain that the low water levels are creating. They can only transport their products to certain grain elevators on the river because most of them are shut down.

“We are in the middle of the harvest season and this is the most active time,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Paul Pastelok. “Barge trafficking is the heaviest means to transport agricultural products.”