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Mississippi River is low, but it's business as usual on the water

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, the water level was around 4.5 feet, but its historic low is 2.6 feet, set in 1976.

EAST MOLINE, Ill. — The Mississippi River is abnormally low, only measuring around 4.5 feet on Tuesday, but the low water levels aren't negatively impacting the Quad Cities too much right now. 

Flood stage is considered to be 15 feet, and the river's historic low is 2.6 feet, set in August and September 1976. 

Robert Sinkler is a former Army Corp of Engineer and now the CEO of Riverside Integrated Water Solutions and Environmental Services. He explained the lock and dam system is what's keeping the river to business as usual. 

"The nation has been directed to keep it at a nine foot navigation channel, so it really hasn't had any major impact to commercial navigation," Sinkler said. 

According to Sinkler, the water levels are low right now because of the lack of rain. However, just two years ago the Mississippi reached its historic crest at 22 feet in May 2019. Sinkler said water fluctuations on the river is something that will continue. 

"A lot of it is just normal climate, climate changes that we're experiencing right now," he said. "So we're not only going to see high water like we did a few years ago, we're going to see these extreme low water events more frequently also."

Without the locks and dams, the low water levels could've had a drastic impact on the area's natural resources, Sinkler said. 

"There would have been tremendous water supply issues up and down this part of the Mississippi from the communities that draw their water from the river, just because the inlets would have fallen below the level of the water," he said. "We would have had tremendous fish kills. It would have had a tremendous negative effect on the wildlife that depended on the aquatic habitats that the Mississippi River provides."

He added that the locks and dams are a system "that avoids those kind of damages to our natural resources during these extreme climatic events."

Those feeling the impact of the low water levels are recreational boaters. The low water makes it hard to navigate the shoreline where there's usually more water.

"There are a lot of places that they're having access issues," Sinkler said. "Some of the marinas north of here, they're just having trouble getting boats in and out because of the low water."

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