Rivers are down because of the drought, but the head of the Peoria-based port district says the cargo total should be near normal for 2012. Steve Jaeger, executive director of the Heart of Illinois Regional Port District, says his 95-mile, six-county jurisdiction typically sees 28-30 million tons of barge freight a year. This year, he says, should be in the 28 million range, even though barges this summer are not always full, so as to avoid hitting bottom.

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Jaeger says the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is dredging and marking a channel “from Pekin down toward Beardstown, trying to keep a channel as close to nine feet as possible, but, because of low water levels, you’re just not going to have the amount of water depths that you would normally expect.”

Jaeger says Mississippi River problems are more complicated because of the number of locks and dams: “Just between Dubuque, Iowa, and Alton, Ill., there are 17 locks and dams, and lock-and-dam operations can be impacted by the lack of water draft and can slow the commerce down even more.”

Jaeger says a poor harvest this year can lead to poor freight totals next year; the grain you’re seeing on barges now has likely been in storage for a while.

(Copyright WBGZ Radio/ www.AltonDailyNews.com)