COMMENTARY | The severe drought of 2012 has led to near-record low water levels on the Mississippi River. There are fears barge traffic along the vital waterway will cease altogether as commercial shipping relies on higher water levels. The Belleville News-Democrat reports melting snow upstream helped raise the river level by a foot. As of Jan. 10, the Mississippi River is 3.1 feet below average. Just two days earlier, it was 4.1 feet.
The all-time record low is 6.2 feet below normal, set in 1940. Should the river shut down barge traffic altogether, job losses could top 8,000 and $54 million in wages could be lost. Annette McMichael, media relations coordinator of the SAFE Movement, wrote an op-ed piece in the McLeansboro Times-Leader in which she claims South Dakota wants more water reserved from the Missouri River for fracking operations. Yet states downstream need the water for agriculture and transportation.
Missouri must be aggressive to solve pending water wars in 2013. Farmers already suffered massive crop losses in 2012 due to the severe drought. The General Assembly, Gov. Jay Nixon, and the state's congressional delegation must demand the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers balance the needs of many states regarding water flow. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has been adamant about the state's river needs since mid-November.
If prodding the Army Corps of Engineers doesn't work, Missouri will have to get creative. Boycotting products from South Dakota and states upstream could be one way to douse the state's economic benefit from fracking. Taking the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court is another remedy in disputes between the states.
What the water wars come down to is a matter of national priorities and national security. Does the need for energy consumption outweigh international and interstate commerce? Are Missouri's agricultural activities, responsible for feeding this nation, more important than South Dakota's booming fracking economy?
This next year may answer those questions. Something must be done before it is too late for Missourians.
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