Flows that have stalled shipping along the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System were far faster than those recorded in 1986, the most common measuring stick to this year’s flooding.
Gauges past the Port of Muskogee in ’86 were 375,000, cubic feet per second (cfs), David Yarbrough, port director of the Tulsa Port of Catoosa said. Last month, those same gauges reached 650,000 cfs, though that is believed to be a conservative measurement because the river was not contained in its banks, he said.
“They are actually thinking they were around 800,000 to 900,000 cubic feet per second at Muskogee,” Yarbrough said.
He offered the perspective Thursday morning during a meeting of the board of directors of the City of Tulsa-Rogers County Port Authority. Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, MKARNS is 445 miles long and runs from the Tulsa Port of Catoosa to the Mississippi River. The controlled waterway has 18 locks and dams, 13 in Arkansas and five in Oklahoma.
“The 2019 flood of record is not over. ... When you look at the waterway and the flows, the flood is ongoing,” Yarbrough said.
As of Tuesday, reservoirs in Oklahoma stood at 44% above normal pool, Yarbrough said. Also, flow at the stream gauge at Van Buren, Arkansas, probably will be at 150,000 cfs through the end of the month. Anything at that rate or higher is considered to be unsafe for navigating by the towing industry.
A total of 200 barges are loaded and ready to ship on the waterway, including 78 at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa. Yarbrough predicted that September would be the earliest the barges would move, albeit at a measured pace.
“When the system does resume, it will resume carefully,” he said. “It will resume daylight hours only. It will resume with restrictive tow size.
“It’s going to be a logjam of people fighting to get their goods on the river. There will be queues in all of the locks. We are in for, the remainder of this calendar year, I’m sure, pretty poor navigation numbers.”
Yarbrough didn’t bother to mention tonnage at the port for June, because there was none.
A multimodal shipping complex and 2,000-acre industrial park, Tulsa Port of Catoosa has a $300 million annual economic impact on Oklahoma.
In an interview several years ago, U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin said the port and MKARNS touch 8,000 jobs and represent $5 billion in private industry investments from Catoosa through Muskogee. He added then that any shutdown of the waterway would cost the state an estimated $2 million per day.
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