Corps spokeswoman Monique Farmer told the Associated Press on Friday that the reduction began as scheduled that morning. By midday, the flow that had started at 37,500 cubic feet per second had been cut to 35,500 cubic feet per second.
Farmer said plans call for a gradual reduction to 12,000 cubic feet per second by Dec. 11 because of the drought. "We're hoping Mother Nature brings some snow this winter," she said, "but we've been told to expect low, stable conditions, that it's probably going to remain dry."
The cut in flow comes despite opposition from the governors of Missouri and Illinois and 77 members of Congress whose states sit along the Mississippi River. Scott Holste, a spokesman for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, said his office never got a reply to a letter Nixon sent Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy, asking that the corps delay plans to reduce the Missouri's flow.
The Mississippi is nearing historic lows between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill. Barges are already required to carry lighter loads and the middle of the river could be closed to barge traffic if the water level at St. Louis dips below minus 5 feet.
Barges carry 20 percent of the country's coal and more than 60 percent of its grain exports. Other cargo, including petroleum products, also gets shipped along the Mississippi River.
Barge operators and those who ship on the Mississippi have warned that a shutdown would have disastrous economic consequences on those industries, with companies laying off workers if it lasts for any significant amount of time. "This is a pending economic emergency," said Ann McCulloch, director of public affairs for the American Waterways Operators.