Dredging The Mississippi

Summer 2018

We are volunteering at Blackhawk USACE Campground in Wisconsin and besides getting a free campsite in exchanged for volunteer hours, we are getting an education.

On Monday, August 13th, we accompanied the Ranger on a patrol along the Mississippi River because sometimes river traffic needs a verbal reminder that the area around the dredging equipment is a ‘no wake zone.’

To allow barge traffic to move along the Mississippi River, the USACE maintains a channel with a minimum depth of 9 feet from Minneapolis, MN to Baton Rouge, LA. The operator of the dredger we met stated they were clearing the sand down to twelve feet in this location.

The dredger does not use a boat motor for movement. There are two legs in the back of the vessel to walk the boat forward or backwards.  To move side to side they secure cables to anchors positioned along both shorelines. This allows the operator to swing the dredger to the right or left as the cutter moves across the river bank removing sand and sludge.

Dredger on the Mississippi River
The spare cutter on the deck.

The cutter blade is raised and lower by the cables and to move left or right the operator swings the dredger along the cables secured to the anchors.


The material is moved through flexible pipes to designated locations.


This is the site where the sand is being relocated, there are bulldozers to reposition the sand and three drainage pipes to allow the water to drain back into the river.

The sand at theses site is available to the public and is used in the construction of homes, business, roadways in the winter and of course sandboxes.

The job of dredging the river requires isn’t your typical 9 to 5 job, at the end of their shift employees are not able to drive home so they need places to sleep and eat.  Below is a picture of their accomadations along with the tug boats necessary for relocating their operations. We were not able to tour their accomadations, but we were told that when they are dredging in their district they  work 5 days on and 2 days off, but when they are further from home they work 30 days on and 30 days off.




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