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Mississippi River barge traffic slowly returning to normal

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The towboat Itasca moves barges on the Mississippi River in St. Paul.
The towboat Itasca moves barges on the Mississippi River in St. Paul on Friday.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

Commercial shipping traffic on the Mississippi River in Minnesota is slowly returning back to normal after a spring and early summer that saw unprecedented periods of high water. 

The worst of the flooding passed in early June, but heavy rain in recent weeks has caused the river to rise again, at times. That's made it challenging for shipping firms and for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which works to maintain the shipping channels.

"The bottom of the river has moved around a lot. The Corps is doing all they can to keep spots dredged out, but the river has also dropped some and then come back up," Lee Nelson, president of Upper River Services in St. Paul. 

Nelson said Friday that his firm had to stop servicing Savage, on the Minnesota River, for a few days earlier in the week because of high water.

Nelson said that he's hoping for a continued slow, steady downward trend in river water levels back to normal.

"We need them to drop slowly, not quickly, because if they drop quickly more sediment will drop out in obscure places" and hamper the operations of towboats and barges, he said. "So we need it to drop slowly, and then go with normal precipitation, because we still need water in the system."

Nelson said Upper River Services was able to retain most of its employees while barge traffic was at a standstill earlier this year. He noted that heavy rain and flooding along the lower Mississippi — from former Hurricane Barry and any other tropical systems — can have an effect on shipping along the entire river.