The mighty Mississippi river is beautiful to behold, terrible in its fury, and of tremendous importance for shipping. The United States is both fed and fueled by the commodities shipped on that great river.
Like any river it depends upon the run off from regular rain to sustain it. Ongoing, persistent, and worsening drought interrupts the regular feeding of the Mississippi.
In the photograph above a coyote rests in the sun on the bed of the Mississippi river. Notice in the background the red buoy laying on its side on the dry ground. It should be floating in the water marking the channel for the boats navigating the river.
Drought now threatens shipping via barge traffic on the Mississippi river. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, “Commerce on the river could come to a halt between Jan. 5 and Jan. 15, when the nine-foot draft required for most towboats will fall to an eight-foot draft,” (JOC).
Have you ever seen towboats moving barges deliberately up and down the river? It is a sight to behold. Each fuel barge holds 30,000 barrels of fuel. A towboat may have as many as six going at once. For those of you counting, that is 180,000 barrels of fuel being moved by a single boat. That one boat is typically operated by a crew of just six.
Keep in mind that a barrel of fuel holds 42 gallons. A single barge moves 1,260,000 gallons of fuel at a time. A towboat handling six barges at once is moving 7,560,000 gallons of fuel.
A tow boat moving corn up and down that critical waterway may easily handle thirty barges at once. Each barge holds 1,500 tons of corn for a total of 45,000 tons (more than 1,750,000 bushels) of corn carried in thirty barges.
There are hundreds of towboats moving many more hundreds or thousands of barges on the Mississippi river everyday. It is difficult to imagine the volume of food and fuel being moved gently along that river. Food and fuel that may stop moving if the Mississippi’s water level continues to drop.
If river traffic stops – everything stops.
Think about that a moment. If, for whatever reason, barge traffic on the Mississippi river stops moving, the commodities that Americans depend on also stop. There is no other infrastructure in place to move that much food and fuel. There isn’t enough road to hold all the trucks that would be required. Never mind that there are neither trucks nor drivers enough to move it anyway. There aren’t enough trains either.
Oh some of it would go on road and rail, and the cost of moving it would go way up. Remember, each towboat is crewed by six people. That is to say that just six people are being paid wages to move all of those commodities per boat. It would take far more than six to move an equivalent amount of goods by road or rail.
If barge traffic stops, you can expect the price of food and fuel to go up. If barge traffic stops for more than a few days, you can expect the price of food and fuel to to through the roof followed by shortages of both.
What will you do if you can’t get fuel? I expect you will do the same thing the rest of us will – walk or stay home.
What will you do if there are food shortages? When food is in short supply people get hungry. Hungry people grow desperate in short order. Desperate people do desperate things – like riot in the streets and perpetrate violence on other people.
It is outside the means of most people to prepare for an ongoing fuel crisis. It is a good idea to keep your vehicle’s tank full if you think fuel may be in short supply. Beyond that, you can certainly keep a few cans of gas or diesel handy, but for most of us that is about it.
The same is not true for a food crisis.
There are many foods that will store well for years at a time if put up properly: Rice, beans, cooking oil, wheat, powdered milk, and sugar are a few examples. If you buy it in bulk and store it yourself there is a great deal of money to be saved for your effort. If money is less important to you than your time, there are many companies who will be glad to ship it to you already packaged.
Are you a gardener? If so – great! If not, this is a great year to learn to garden. In doing so, you become less dependent upon a system that appears to be less and less dependable. I believe there is no greater path to self reliance than growing your own food.
The Mississippi river is very low. Traffic on the river may be halted if it drops any more. Is this just a short-term problem? Will 2013 bring an abundance of rain, or will it be yet another drought-plagued year? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts the river will be at a historic low on January 15, (Weather.gov).
If drought conditions persist through the year, shipping on the nation’s important waterways - including the Mississippi river - may become an ongoing problem.
More and more the weather is less predictable; less reliable. Climate change, geo-engineering, and solar maximum are all possible influences on global weather patterns. In the end, the cause of unpredictable weather is less important to practitioners of self-reliance than the reality that we face: If we are to ensure that our families have access to the basic necessities of life, we must must not rely on the unreliable.
We must rely on ourselves.
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This article first appeared at Barking Window
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