The Rhine dropped below the critical mark of 40 centimeters at the Kauber level on Friday and thus to a new low.
The low water is making it increasingly difficult to supply goods, some of which have become more important due to the concurrent energy crisis.
According to the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration, the level at the measuring point in Kaub near Koblenz is expected to continue to fall in the coming days.
Below the 40 centimeter level, it is no longer economical for many barges to navigate the river.
The lack of water exacerbates the bottlenecks in the energy supply, which are a burden on industry and consumers as a result of the Russian war in Ukraine.
Instead of Russian gas, which has become scarce, some power plants and industrial companies rely on coal, which is transported via the Rhine.
Chemicals, grain and paper products also travel the river.
Goods transport affected
The chemical group BASF SE has already booked special flat-water ships because of the shallow waters and is increasingly using rail to transport goods.
Although there are currently no effects, the company says it cannot rule out that the production volumes of some plants will be reduced in the coming weeks.
The energy supplier Uniper SE said on Thursday that it would not be able to get enough coal delivered by rail to run its power plants at full capacity for an extended period of time.
Uniper had previously announced that it would have to throttle the Staudinger-5 power plant until September due to a lack of coal.
At the steel producer Thyssenkrupp AG, a crisis team discusses the situation every day.
In order to ensure the supply of its plant in Duisburg, Thyssen also relies on ships with a shallower draft.
Contargo switches to land transport
The logistics service provider Contargo expects to have to stop its inland shipping on the Upper and Middle Rhine in the next few days due to the persistent drought.
If the level at Kaub falls below 40 centimeters from the weekend, as expected, safe passage for barges will no longer be possible, the Duisburg-based company announced on Friday.
In this case, operations on the Upper and Middle Rhine should be largely stopped for safety reasons.
The ship fleet on the Lower Rhine should receive containers from the Middle Rhine by truck via a land bridge - the transport capacities on the land route are, however, limited.
In shallow water, barges cannot board to their full capacity.
This happens again and again, but at 39 centimeters the Kauber level is at its lowest level for this time of year since at least 1993. The level is expected to drop to 34 centimeters by Tuesday morning.
The number does not indicate the actual depth of the river, but is a measure of its navigability.
According to Facts Global Energy, trade in 400,000 barrels a day of oil products along the Rhine could be disrupted.
This roughly corresponds to the capacity of the largest European oil refinery.