Low water levels mean the Rhine is within days of cargo closing | Germany

Authorities and industry have warned that the German Rhine, one of Europe’s main waterways, is within days of being closed to commercial traffic due to the very low levels caused by the drought.

Basically, the impending crisis could lead energy companies to cut their production, one of the largest gas companies in the country said.

Businesses located along the Rhine or that depend on it for the transport or reception of goods warn that they have been forced to downsize their activities and drastically reduce their loads and are now on the verge of having to shut down some production if the merchant ships are not more able to access the river.

The Rhine, which flows approximately 760 miles from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea, is the second largest river in Central and Western Europe after the Danube. Most of the nearly 200 million tons of goods shipped on German rivers – from coal to car parts, from food to chemicals – are transported across the Rhine.

Its dangerously low levels are reminiscent of the drought that halted it for about six months in 2018. The Cologne Waterways and Naval Authority said the “unusually low levels” for this time of year mean the barges have had to reduce their load “to be able to navigate the river.” This raises prices and reduces the speed at which goods can be transported.

Of great concern, as Germany prepares for an energy rationing winter due to an 80% reduction in gas flows from Russia, is the knock-on effect that depletion of river traffic could have on energy production. .

Uniper, the largest German gas distributor in Russia, which already recently needed a multi-billion dollar bailout from the German government to prevent its collapse, warned of potential “erratic performance” for next month at Staudinger-5, its coal-fired power plant, 510 megawatt power plant east of Frankfurt, one of the main tributaries of the Rhine, due to disruptions in coal supplies along the river.

As the demand for coal rises, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck has decided to put coal-fired power plants back into service, which had previously been taken out of service but are now seen as a temporary solution to help Germany to give up Russian gas.

Industry leaders in Germany, trying to avoid the recession between high energy prices and rampant inflation, are now paying close attention to the daily levels of rivers as to the amount of gas flowing from Russia (20%, or 33 million of cubic meters).

Of more immediate concern are the levels of gas stored in nearly two dozen facilities across the country, coming in at 70.39% on Thursday.

Low water levels usually occur much later in the year, but reflect the drought conditions affecting much of Europe.

This week, French energy supplier EDF said it was temporarily reducing production from its nuclear power plants on the Rhône and Garonne rivers as heatwaves limited its ability to use the river’s water to cool its plants.

Meanwhile, in the UK, it was reported Thursday that the source of the River Thames dried up for the first time since logging began due to lack of rainfall.

To take a snapshot of the situation in Germany, in Cologne, the largest city on the Rhine, areas of the river have been reduced to a mere trickle. On Thursday the overall level was 1.03 meters with experts saying there was little chance of change in the coming weeks and the level could drop further due to lack of rainfall.

According to the drainage operations of the city of Cologne, the ships that want to navigate the river have a total permissible height of 111 centimeters plus the water level of 103 cm, in other words, just 2.14 meters below their keel. Any ship deeper than that was in danger of getting stuck, they warned, adding that the captains are solely responsible for the safe maneuvering of their ships.

According to Christian Lorenz, of Ports and Freight Traffic Cologne, a lot of freight traffic had already halved its load to be light enough to travel safely.

“Typically a merchant ship carrying salt from Heilbronn would have carried 2,100 tons on board, but this had to be reduced to just 900 tons on Monday due to river level,” he told German media. To compensate for the reduced capacity, companies are faced with the more expensive options of using multiple ships or reloading onto trucks or freight trains, but both are currently in short supply. Ships, in particular, are required in the Black Sea to carry grain supplies from Ukraine, now possible for the first time in months.

Plans are underway to build barges and low-lying ships, as well as deepening the Rhine and better forecasting of the water level following the 2018 crisis, but these measures are slow to be implemented.

The timing of the Rhine contraction couldn’t be worse economically. Many of the companies that depend on it have rushed to repair supply chains massively disrupted by the pandemic and have urgently sought to replenish their stocks.

Environmentalists are also sounding the alarm as rising temperatures lead to a high concentration of pollutants that can be harmful to flora, fauna and fish.

Bathers have also been warned to stay away from the river as a reduction in the water level can lead to narrower channels and stronger currents.

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