Rhine water above crisis levels in Germany, approaching normal depths

Water levels on the Rhine rose over the weekend of September 17th/18th, offering hope that one of the supply chain problems in Europe will be alleviated at least in part.

The marker at Kaub, a narrow and shallow waypoint west of Frankfurt, was set to rise to 67cm by September 22nd, according to data from the German government. Last week the level was at about 36cm. The level is not the actual depth of the water, which can be far deeper, but is used as a measure for navigability. At 40cm or below many barges find it uneconomic to transit that stretch of the waterway.

Even at the mid-60s level, some vessels would have to restrict loads if passing through the chokepoint. The low water has made even worse the energy-supply difficulties hitting the EU and threatening to tip some of the region’s largest economies into recession. Barge rates along the river remained near record highs, leading to major manufacturers to cut back on barge loads. Ford Motor Co had reduced barge load levels from Cologne — from where it sends vehicles to ports in Belgium and the Netherlands — by as much as 30% due to the low water, but it had also increased the frequency of shipments.

In 2020 the Rhine carried about roughly 28m tons of mineral oil products, 19m tons of chemicals and 17m tons of coal

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has worsened the impact of the low-water crisis by tying up some barges for the transport of grain from Ukraine to central and western Europe.