The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving more aggressively to discharge as much water as possible from its Missouri River dams given the likelihood of continued high runoff.
The corps already has been discharging about twice the normal amount from the dams, and on Tuesday, the agency said it would again boost releases. Discharges from Gavins Point Dam will be set at 30,000 cubic feet per second this week, up 3,000 cfs. Normally during the winter, releases average between 12,000 and 17,000 cfs.
The six dams together make up the largest reservoir system in North America. Extraordinary runoff above the dams led to the historic 2011 summerlong flood, and extraordinary runoff below the dams’ flood control capabilities led to 2019’s catastrophic flooding.
John Remus, chief of Missouri River management for the corps, said the latest increase is due to a forecast for warmer than normal weather and higher than normal runoff in January and February.
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Even though the corps is accelerating releases from the dams, the agency is anticipating it will fall short of creating the normal amount of storage space for runoff this year. Remus said the corps estimates that 0.4 million acre-feet of last year’s 60.9 million acre-feet in runoff will remain in the reservoirs past March 1, the target date for creating space for new runoff.
The corps’ ability to keep releases high is limited by fears of contributing to ice jam flooding above the dams.
Remus said the agency plans to be as aggressive as possible in moving water out from behind the dams.
The corps on Tuesday said it estimates runoff this year will reach 36.3 million acre-feet, ninth highest out of 122 years. The highest year was 2011 with 61 million acre-feet, followed by 2019, with 60.9 million acre-feet.
The National Weather Service reiterated Tuesday that it is forecasting a wetter than normal start to the year. Officials have been advising people to prepare for the potential for flooding this year.