Ohio river reopens sooner than expected

The Ohio River has reopened to recreational and business boat traffic at Locks and Dam 52 at Brookport, Illinois, Wednesday night. The work was originally expected to last up to four days.

Dam 52 is one of only two in a series of dams built in the 1920s that remain operational. Wooden planks called wickets are raised when needed to keep the river deep enough for boats to pass.

"We haven’t dealt with this dramatic of a situation," said Col. Chris Beck with the U.S. Army Corps of engineers.

Beck says it’s usual for the Corps to raise the wickets and have two or three missing, but when the Corps went to put them up last month, three were missing and 39 others couldn’t be raised because of the gap.

"It’s critical. Each one of these barges going by is equal to over 1,000 trucks on the road, so this inland waterway is critical to our nation," Beck said.

He says the Corps had a plan B and C in case plan A didn’t work, but crews were able to lift the wickets on their first attempt.

"I’m very, very pleased. It was minimal impact to industry too, and right now the cue to come up and down the river is not far off what is typically is coming through this facility," Beck said.

Beck says Wednesday night about 11 barges waited to go up stream, and 11 waited to go down stream. He said that’s actually the usual amount of traffic waiting.

If it lasted longer, the closure could have affected water companies in the area.

As crews worked to repair the dam, Paducah Water closely monitored the water coming into the treatment system from the river. Pumps carry water from the Ohio River into Paducah water’s treatment system before it’s sent out to 70,000 homes in McCracken, Graves and Marshall counties.

"It’s a major concern for us, and in this case where we can potentially lose the source for water, it’s even more concerning," said General Manager Bill Robertson.

With water being lowered almost 5 feet on a section of the Ohio River, Robertson says the water becomes harder to treat, because it becomes stagnant and is not as fresh once it makes it’s way into the system. That’s why the company closely monitored the water on Wednesday, checking different levels to make sure it was fully treated, but issues with the river are nothing new.

"We deal with the river every day. In the winter it’s high. In the summer it’s low. It’s just what we do," Robertson said.

The company isn’t anticipating any issues getting clean drinking water to your home.

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