By Jay Townsend
The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System was the largest civil works project ever undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the time of its opening. President Richard Nixon dedicated the navigation system at the Port of Catoosa in Oklahoma on June 5, 1971. Today, about 12 million tons of cargo are shipped annually generating $4 billion in economic benefit to the region. That is a tremendous amount of industrial, chemical, agricultural and construction commodities that weren’t transported on our nation’s already congested roadways; reducing greenhouse gas emissions. More than 4 million tons of commodities were shipped from August to November 2015.
That’s roughly the same as 2013 and 2014. Reaching similar shipping numbers is an accomplishment considering the navigation industry was set back this spring by repeated heavy rains. The river’s swollen current collected everything in its path and flushed fields of debris downstream.
May 2015 was the wettest month on record in the lower 48 states. Arkansas River flows exceeded 300,000 cubic feet per second in some of the navigation pools. Because of high water and unsafe conditions from May thru July commodities shipped on the river totaled 1.4 million tons, down 1.2 million from last year’s 2.6 million.
Minus scheduled maintenance, the shipping industry has been open for business since the flows receded below 150,000 c.f.s. in late July, early August.
When Mother Nature doesn’t interfere, the navigation system provides year-round navigation from the Mississippi River in southeast Arkansas, westward to Catoosa, Oklahoma, near Tulsa. The 445-mile system links ports in Arkansas and Oklahoma with the ports of the world. The locks and dams were built to keep the water deep enough for barges during low flows.
A single barge carries the equivalent of 58 tractor-trailers. A motor vessel pushing a 15-barge tow carries the equivalent of 870 semi-truck loads. That’s a lot of 18-wheelers taken off the already congested roadways. You can view the MKARNS tonnage report here: http://www.swl.usace.army.mil/Missions/Navigation.aspx