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Low Mississippi River water levels may halt barges

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Photo -   A barge powers its way up the Mississippi River Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, in St. Louis. A top Corps of Engineers official has ordered the release of water from an upper Mississippi River reservoir in an effort to avoid closure of the river at St. Louis to barge traffic due to low water levels caused by drought. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
A barge powers its way up the Mississippi River Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, in St. Louis. A top Corps of Engineers official has ordered the release of water from an upper Mississippi River reservoir in an effort to avoid closure of the river at St. Louis to barge traffic due to low water levels caused by drought. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — The gentle whir of passing barges is as much a part of life in St. Louis as the Gateway Arch and the Cardinals. It's a constant backdrop to a community intricately intertwined with the Mississippi River.

But next month, those barges packing such necessities as coal, farm products and petroleum could instead be parked along the river's banks.

The drought that has gripped the Midwest has left the Mighty Mississippi critically low. It'll get lower if the Army Corps of Engineers presses ahead with plans to reduce the flow from a Missouri River dam.

Mississippi River interests fear the reduction will force a halt to barge traffic at St. Louis, perhaps within weeks.

They warn the economic fallout could force layoffs, raise fuel costs and pinch the nation's food supply.

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