Army Corps: Drought conditions persist in the upper Missouri River Basin

Nebraska City News-Press

Drought conditions continue to impact the upper Missouri River Basin above Sioux City, Iowa (upper Basin). July runoff in the upper Basin was 34 percent of average. July runoff above Fort Peck Dam was the lowest in 123 years of record-keeping.

The updated 2021 upper Basin runoff forecast is 14.6 million acre-feet (MAF), 57 percent of average. If realized, this runoff amount would be the 10th driest year in the upper Basin since 1898. 

System storage on August 1 was 53.9 MAF, 2.2 MAF below the base of the Annual Flood Control and Multiple Use Zone. System storage is expected to decline further into the Carryover Multiple Use Zone during the remainder of 2021.

“Reservoir inflows in July have been declining due to the warmer and drier conditions in the upper Basin,” said John Remus, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Missouri River Basin Water Management Division. 

“Per the July 1 System storage check, navigation support will be maintained at an intermediate service level, 1,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) below full-service levels, through the end of the normal 8-month navigation flow support season, which will end on Dec. 1 at the mouth,” added Remus.

USACE will evaluate lower Missouri River flow conditions to set Gavins Point releases to ensure that flows at the four downstream navigation target locations will be at or above the intermediate service level. 

The monthly study also indicates that the winter release from Gavins Point, which is based on the September 1 System storage check, will likely be at a minimum rate of 12,000 cfs.

Fall public meetings are currently scheduled to be held October 25-28 at several locations along the Missouri River. Locations and details will be included in the September update.

Drought Conditions

Soil conditions in the upper basin are very dry. Drought conditions throughout the entire Basin, particularly in the upper basin, worsened in July. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, approximately 75 percent of the Missouri River basin is currently experiencing some form of abnormally dry or drought conditions, an increase of 10 percent since the end of June. 

The seasonal drought outlook, which extends through the end of September, shows drought conditions will persist or expand across the upper basin. Drought information can be viewed at:  https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/.

Navigation

Gavins Point Dam releases will be set to provide flow support at an intermediate service level, 1,500 cfs less than full service flow support at all four target locations (Sioux City, Omaha, Nebraska City, and Kansas City). 

Flow support for the second half of the navigation season, as well as the navigation season length, are based on July 1 System storage. The flow support season length will be a full 8-month season, ending Dec. 1 at the mouth of the Missouri River.

Mountain Snowpack

Mountain snowpack in the upper Basin melted out in mid- to late-June, several weeks earlier than normal. The mountain snowpack peaked above Fort Peck in late March at 86 percent of average, while the mountain snowpack in the Fort Peck to Garrison reach peaked in late April at 96 percent of average. Mountain snowpack normally peaks near April 15. The mountain snowpack graphics can be viewed at: http://go.usa.gov/xARQC.

Winter Release Rate

The winter release rate is determined based on the September 1 System storage. Per the July 1 reservoir studies, the winter releases from Gavins Point Dam will likely be at the minimum rate of 12,000 cfs.

Reservoir Forecasts

Gavins Point Dam

Average releases past month – 29,100 cfs

Current release rate – 31,000 cfs

Forecast release rate – 31,500 cfs

End-of-July reservoir level – 1206.2 feet

Forecast end-of-August reservoir level – 1206.5 feet

Notes: The Gavins Point release will be adjusted to provide intermediate-service navigation flow support on the lower Missouri River through December 1, the second half of the navigation season.

Fort Randall Dam

Average releases past month – 27,200 cfs

End-of-July reservoir level – 1355.1 feet

Forecast end-of-August reservoir level – 1355.0 feet

Notes: Releases will be adjusted as necessary to maintain the desired reservoir elevation at Gavins Point and to back up Gavins Point releases.

Big Bend Dam

Average releases past month – 27,600 cfs

Forecast average release rate – 30,100 cfs

Forecast reservoir level – 1420.7 feet

Oahe Dam

Average releases past month – 27,900 cfs

Forecast average release rate – 30,600 cfs

End-of-July reservoir level – 1603.4 feet (down 1.5 foot from July 1)

Forecast end-of-August reservoir level – 1601.1 feet

Garrison Dam

Average releases past month – 22,000 cfs

Current release rate – 22,000 cfs

Forecast release rate – 21,000 cfs

End-of-July reservoir level – 1834.7 feet (down 1.8 feet from July 1)

Forecast end-of-August reservoir level – 1832.6 feet

Notes – Releases will be maintained at 22,000 cfs through August.

Fort Peck Dam

Average releases past month – 9,400 cfs

Current release rate – 9,500 cfs

Forecast average release rate – 9,500 cfs

End-of-July reservoir level – 2230.8 feet (down 1.7 foot from July 1)

Forecast end-of-August reservoir level – 2228.8 feet

Notes: Releases will be maintained at 9,500 cfs through August.

The forecast reservoir releases and elevations discussed above are not definitive. Additional precipitation, lack of precipitation or other circumstances could cause adjustments to the reservoir release rates.

Hydropower

The six mainstem power plants generated 878 million kWh of electricity in July. Typical energy generation for July is 961 million kWh. The power plants are expected to generate 8.7 billion kWh this year, compared to the long-term average of 9.5 billion kWh.

To view the detailed three-week release forecast for the mainstem dams, go to https://go.usa.gov/xARQB.

The Missouri Basin Web App provides links to these reports and others that are updated more frequently. http://go.usa.gov/xE6fC