The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced it will begin increasing the volume of water being released from Gavins Point Dam today. A spokesman for the Corps said the increased releases were "part of the plan" and not in response to requests for additional water in the Mississippi River.
According to a news release from the Corps' Omaha office, they will "monitor the situation closely and make additional adjustments if necessary to maintain intakes along the lower river. We anticipate that releases from Gavins Point will be maintained at 18,000 cfs until early January."
Located west of Yankton, S.D., Gavins Point is the southernmost of six reservoirs on the Missouri River. Releases there are scheduled to be increased from 14,000 cubic feet per second to 16,000 cfs today and then to 18,000 cfs Thursday.
"We made the decision Monday looking at the weather forecast. This is normal. We do it every year," said Jody Farhat, Chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division. "What it really amounts to is we put additional water in the river due to ice formations. Single-digit temperatures reduces inflows from tributaries and reduces stages on the Missouri River."
According to Farhat, "three or four municipal or power plant intakes below Gavins Point are operating within a half foot of critical low operations."
Due to drought conditions, reservoirs on the Missouri are lower than normal for this time of year. Barge traffic on the Mississippi River may soon be affected by lower than normal water levels, too, and interests there have repeatedly requested that the Corps release additional water from Missouri reservoirs to increase flow in the Mississippi. To date, the Corps has declined to due so.
"This will have no affect on the Mississippi," said Farhat. "A lot of folks are excited on the Mississippi, but we don't anticipate that any of this water will reach the Mississippi until spring. This is to replace water that will be locked in ice until spring."
An increase of 4,000 cfs per day from Gavins Point, says Farhat, will have no significant impact on reservoir elevations. Drought conditions in 2012 have left Missouri River impoundments about 8 million acre feet of water below desired winter levels. Lake Sakakawea, the largest reservoir in the system, is already projected to drop an additional two feet by the end of February 2013. Sakakawea was at 1829.8 feet Tuesday.
"If it continues we are looking at recreation impact issues next year," said Farhat. "We are hoping for a big mountain snowpack and a big plains snowpack this winter. Hopefully it is a one-year drought, but you never know."
The peak snowpack over the Missouri and Yellowstone River drainage normally occurs about mid-April. Although it is very early in the season, the current snowpack is rated at or slightly below normal.