After months of extraordinarily high releases from upstream dams, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Saturday finally begins cutting back.

The releases have contributed to high levels on the Missouri River along the Nebraska-Iowa border southward. And those high levels have kept water from draining from still-flooded and damaged portions of the valley.

And that’s kept life on hold for some in the bottomland along the river. Some families haven’t been able to get back to their homes, some roads remain damaged or underwater, and in some areas, electricity has yet to be restored.

On Saturday, releases from Gavins Point Dam drop to 75,000 cubic feet per second, down from 80,000 cfs. Gavins Point is the farthest downstream of six massive dams on the upper Missouri. Together, they comprise the largest reservoir system in North America.

By mid-December, releases are expected to be down to 22,000 cubic feet.

That means that releases, which have been running more than 200% above average, will be about 30% above average as winter arrives.

The drop in releases will significantly reduce river levels from Yankton, South Dakota, to the river’s mouth at St. Louis, said Eileen Williamson, spokeswoman for the corps, which manages the dams. How much the river drops and when will depend upon how long it takes the flooded areas and high tributaries to drain into the river.

Many of the Missouri’s tributaries are flowing well above normal and likely will flow above normal for most if not all of the winter, Williamson said.

Ongoing high river levels also have prevented the corps from being able to fully assess damage to some of the fractured levees along the river.

Matt Krajewski, chief of the readiness branch for the Omaha district of the corps, said it could be about mid-December before the corps can fully assess the extent of damage to levees and what it will take to fix them.

The corps has estimated that the cost of repairing levees could exceed $1 billion and take about three years.

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Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Phone: 402-444-1102.

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