Reclaiming the Rivers
Coast Guard has lost millions in aids-to-navigation equipment to flooding
By JOHN C. MARCARIO, Assistant Editor
Earlier this year, the Coast Guard’s Eighth
District, which is in charge of patrolling states
along the Mississippi River, was given $2 million by the service to replenish its depleted stock of
river buoys and equipment. Midwestern flooding in
August 2007, sparked by several converging tropical
weather systems, destroyed a number of river buoys
and other aids-to-navigation equipment along district
But before all that equipment could be replaced, historic flooding brought on by torrential rains occurred
this June throughout the Midwest. Hundreds more
buoys were destroyed in flooding along the Mississippi
and Iowa Rivers, and many other inland waterways.
Flooding continued into July as the surge of water
made its way down the Mississippi River basin in an event
eerily similar to the 1993 flooding that killed 50 people
and caused $15 billion in damage along the river.
Lt. Jeffrey Ingram, the officer in charge of the 75-foot
river buoy tender Chena, which operates along the
Mississippi River from Hickman, Ky., has seen the recent
flooding first hand.
“It looks huge. From bank to bank you don’t see any
rocks,” Ingram said.
Before the flooding began, Ingram
and his crew took as many buoys as
possible from the water. After flood
waters subsided, he sent out a small
boat to assess the damage.
“Most of the buoys [out there
before the floods] were missing,”
Several were located in wooded
areas and would have to be retrieved by a helicopter or heavy-duty truck, he said. It is not uncommon to find buoys in cornfields, river dams and parking lots
after flood waters recede.
“It can be very challenging and
very difficult to have enough gear,” Ingram said.
Flooding can be the toughest emergency for the
Coast Guard to prepare for because it usually happens
quickly, making it difficult to pull buoys from the
water when they are still being used for navigation.
“When there are drastic and dramatic changes, that
causes problems,” said Steve Hadley, the Eighth District
waterways management operations sector chief.
Most of the Coast Guard’s buoy management responsibilities fall under the waterways management branch,
which includes field units and aids-to-navigation teams.
Hadley said the Coast Guard keeps a thorough inventory so they can quickly identify what equipment is missing. As flood waters recede, the Coast Guard will venture
into the waterways to recoup anything still usable.
“Flooding is not a new event, and we know we are
going to have these events periodically,” Hadley said.
Depending on the size of the body of water, buoy realignment after floods or other disasters can take
between a day and a week. The Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard determine where buoys are
placed, and they are checked annually to make sure
they are still in their proper locations and to see if any
maintenance is needed.
Flooding can occur quickly, making it difficult for the Coast Guard
to pull buoys from the water when they are still being used for
■ Most buoys not pulled out of the water prior to recent flooding
in the Midwest were missing when waters receded.
■ Some buoys were found in wooded areas where a helicopter
or truck would be needed for retrieval.
■ It is not uncommon to find buoys in cornfields, river dams and