HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. – Old Man River has a little more spring in his step, thanks to winter rains and snow.

“The river at Helena was at 21 feet on March 14, and was forecast to be around 32 feet this past Tuesday,” said Robert Goodson, Phillips County extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “That’s a lot of water.”

According to the National Weather Service:

  • The Mississippi river at Helena is forecast to rise to 33.6 feet by Monday, March 25. Flood stage is 44 feet.
  • Arkansas City was expected to rise to 27.9 feet by March 25. Flood stage is 37 feet.
  • Near Greenville, Miss., the river was expected to hit 39.4 feet on Monday. Flood stage is 48 feet.

The river levels are in stark contrast to last August when low levels forced closure of an 11-mile stretch of the river, clogging barge traffic. The low levels also extended to ports serving the river, keeping barges at home until dredging equipment could make the rounds. Last November, water levels dropped again, to a low of minus 2.5 feet at Helena, Goodson said. A negative reading doesn’t mean the channel ran dry. (See “How can a river stage be negative”: www.erh.noaa.gov/ctp/features/negstage.php)

“The river is up about 30-35 feet from the lows during the drought,” said Bob Anderson, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, based in Jackson, Miss. He warned that “we will need to dredge again this summer when river levels fall.”

Anderson said the Corps is  “gearing up for possible flooding on the Red River in North Dakota and along tributaries in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. We are hoping the snow melts slowly this spring to keep the flooding down.”

The Mississippi is an important highway for farm products, with some 60 percent of the nation’s grain being shipped by barge.

As farmers gear up to plant the crops they’ll harvest this summer, fertilizer and weed control products are coming up the river and “grain is going down as terminals and farmers clean out their grain storage bins,” Goodson said.