Higher releases at Gavins Point increase Missouri River forecasts

Increased water could raise river nearly a foot above previous forecast
Wednesday, June 22, 2011 | 2:53 p.m. CDT; updated 9:13 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 22, 2011

COLUMBIA — Water released from Gavins Point Dam surpassed already record levels on Wednesday and will raise the Missouri River higher than previous forecasts.

Parts of South Dakota received up to 6 inches of rain over the past two days, prompting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to increase releases past the previous limit of 150,000 cubic feet per second, already more than double the dam's previous record set in 1997.

Releases from Gavins Point, the farthest downstream in a series of dams along the upper Missouri, were increased to 155,000 cubic feet per second on Wednesday and forecast to reach 160,000 cubic feet per second Thursday. The levels are expected to remain there until mid-August.

“We thought we would be able to hold at 150,000 (cubic feet per second) for an extended period of time," Brig. Gen. John McMahon, commander of the corps' Northwestern Division, said in a release Tuesday. "Unfortunately, recent rains have reduced our flexibility, and we must evacuate these floodwaters to manage the remaining flood control storage in the reservoir system. As we’ve stated all along, heavy rain storms could result in major revisions.”

The corps forecast that increased releases would raise river levels about 6 inches above previous forecasts at St. Joseph, 9 inches at Kansas City and between 6 and 9 inches at Boonville.

Jud Kneuvean, chief of emergency management for the corps' Kansas City District, said if the river at Boonville does not reach at least 27 feet in the next week or two, it certainly will some time in the next couple of months. The timing depends on rainfall between Boonville and Gavins Point.

When forecasts call for 27 feet at Boonville, workers will begin to place sandbags in towns along the river, Gale Blomenkamp of the Boone County Fire Protection District said.

The Boonville gauge read 22.2 feet Wednesday morning and was forecast to reach 25 feet by Monday. The Corps has forecast a range of 27 to 33 feet at Boonville based on upstream releases and average rainfall.

The first places sandbags would be placed in Boone County would be along the Katy Trail in Rocheport, drainage areas in Huntsdale and McBaine, and atop the levees in Hartsburg.

Though sandbag shortages have caused concern for flood fighters in northwest Missouri, no shortage is expected in Boone County, Blomenkamp said. The county has roughly 100,000 sandbags in storage and has been in talks with the corps about getting more, Donna Hargis of the Columbia/Boone County Office of Emergency Management said Wednesday.

Blomenkamp said the county has access to as much sand as needed from plants in Rocheport and Boonville.

Hartsburg Mayor Bud Ditzfeld said the town has 25,000 sandbags stored, and he said he doesn't expect all of those will be needed.

"It's got to be pretty dire here for us to start sandbagging," he said, noting that the town's levees protect up to 32 feet.

Former Hartsburg Mayor Nancy Grant said the town used roughly 6,400 sandbags in 2007 when the Missouri River crested at 29.46 feet on the Jefferson City gauge. The river is forecast to crest between 27 and 35 feet in Jefferson City this summer.

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