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Martin Hettel knows the frustration. The senior manager of bulk sales for St. Louis-based AEP River Operations said that American Electric Power subsidiary has 3,250 barges and roughly 100 towboats that last year moved a combined 73 million tons of products. Much of that cargo was coal and petroleum coke, along with agricultural staples such as corn, soybeans and fertilizer.

This year, he shrugs, “it’s definitely a challenge, no doubt.”

“While we’re confident we’re able to deliver customers’ freight, not just as efficiently as we would,” he said, noting that the lower river levels have forced the company to reduce each of their barge’s payload on average by 25 percent, about 1,500 tons. Because of the river’s narrowness now, AEP’s tow sizes have been cut by 30 percent.