Out of sight, out of mind. That pretty well sums up the layperson's view of the country's extensive inland waterways system, an efficient, environmentally friendly network of rivers, locks and canals that moves our huge fleet of floating pack mules, aka barges, powered by towboats.
Sixty percent of the nation's agricultural exports move by barge up and down the Mississippi River system, as do billions of dollars' worth of petroleum, coal, steel and other commodities. It's a critical lifeline for the nation's economy, but one not without problems.
Last summer's drought that continued through the winter wasn't just bad news for ranchers and farmers. There were big worries about what it would mean to the Mississippi River, too. Low water and heavy boats meant bad news for barge operators who relied on high water levels to ferry goods from North to South.