Katie Moore / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- The mighty Mississippi carries much on its back, including important shipments for business and industry.
“When we discharge a vessel, it could have 10,000 tons of steel,” said David Mannella, an executive with a local cargo company.
It’s just a small fraction of the cargo and supplies that are transported up and down the Mississippi River every day, including oil.
The river is like an artery pumping supplies to and from the nation's heartland, but right now, it's also pumping record amounts of silt and sediment downstream.
“What we've seen by the [U.S. Army] Corps' own estimates, that less than 35 percent of our top 59 waterways and harbors are adequately dredged,” said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Louisiana.
The majority of the silt from the recent flood isn't expected to arrive at the mouth, at Southwest Pass, until mid-July.
“Today, you have five dredges working in Southwest Pass, digging the mud, trying to move the mud and get it picked up so the ships can pass. Next week we will be losing one dredge and they are barely maintaining the channels,” said Captain Mike Marino, president of the Bar Pilots Association.
The build-up is already causing problems for the maritime industry. This Thursday, officials are doing what's called "lowering the draft" an additional foot.
“It's been about 13 years since we have had to do something like this,” Marino said.
“For years, the corps has done what it needed to do to move money around within its budget so the Mississippi River wouldn't get shut down or reduced draft. For whatever reason, this last year, they decided they weren’t gonna do that anymore,” Boustany said.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said that was before record water and record silt made its way down river this spring. Now, they're asking for $95 million in funds for emergency dredging to keep river traffic flowing.
"We have a harbor maintenance tax that was created in 1986 and the revenue that is generated, which is roughly $1.3 to $1.5 billion dollars a year, which Congress meant to be dedicated to dredging our waterways,” Boustany said.
But according to Boustany, only half of that money makes it to the corps for dredging. He's trying to change that this congressional session, requiring that all harbor maintenance tax revenue actually pay for harbor maintenance.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is pushing the emergency dredging appropriation in the Senate.
Their biggest concern is that ships will run aground on the sediment at Southwest Pass, shutting off the river for a long period of time.