River Speed More Than Level Impacts Barges On Arkansas River

Jun 12, 2019

Regular barge traffic is not expected to resume for at least six weeks.
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

While the Arkansas River has crested and continues to fall, steady barge traffic along the river will not be observed for at least six more weeks. Bryan Day executive director of the Little Rock Port Authority said the stopping of barges was due to river speed more than height.

“How fast, what the volume is…will impact the ability to safely move commodities up and down the Arkansas River,” Day said. The increase in rain and eventual flooding impacted transportation in other areas besides Arkansas.

“We’re seeing major flooding in Louisiana, major flooding on the Mississippi, flooding in the Midwest, all of it draining into these inland river basins and it has impacted the ability to safely transport cargo on the rivers,” Day said. According to Day, this delay began a few weeks before the flooding began, due to reasons not related to the Arkansas River.

“The lower Mississippi was pretty high and it was hard to move barges on there. And then we had some issues with adequate tow opportunities to bring those barges up the river,” Day said. Even when the river level drops, inspections and at times rebuilding will need to occur before barges can travel again. Preparation includes inspections on all 18 lock and dam systems on the Arkansas River.

“They worked marvelously. They worked as they were designed to do. They managed the water. They held back the water,” Day said. “They controlled the flooding, but they’ll all have to be inspected and probably cleaned, with debris and things that are in there before we can safely use them every day.” While the barges themselves will not require inspection, it will take some work to get them moving again.

“The Arkansas River is pretty consistent in its handling of cargo and we’ve kind of stopped everything for two months basically. It’s going to take some time to kind of get back in our routine and get it moving like we want it to be.” Day said. This delay will likely leave a large negative dent in the state’s economy, according to Day.

“When the water recedes, and everything kind of gets back into routine and we calculate the negative economic impact. I would say it’s going to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Day said. However, he says it will take months until the actual amount of damage can be determined. Overall, Day is confident Arkansas will recover.

“Arkansas is resilient. Manufacturers, farmers...we’ll catch up. We’ll learn from it and we’ll be as strong as ever I truly believe that,” Day said.