The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Thursday it is taking steps to prepare for another year of above-average runoff in the Missouri River basin.
In a news release and a telephone briefing, Corps officials announced that they have increased releases this week from Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River to twice the normal flows for this time of year.
The decision to move to releases of 35,000 cubic feet per second — and to continue higher-than-normal releases through the spring — reflects the latest effort to prepare the Missouri River basin for what is projected to be another potential flood year. Before this week the releases had been at 30,000 cubic feet per second — also well above normal releases for this time of year.
Gavins Point releases in the winter are normally between 12,000 and 17,000 cubic feet per second, the Corps said in a news release. The higher releases now will help lower water levels in dams on the upper Missouri River, providing more capacity to handle runoff from the winter snowpack and other tributaries feeding into the river, the Corps said.
At this time, the Corps said it is projecting a 2020 river runoff that is 141% of normal.
“The potential for above normal runoff, coupled with above normal stages on many uncontrolled tributaries that join the Missouri River after the Gavins Point Dam, increases the potential for flooding, particularly south of Omaha,” the release said.
The 2020 runoff projection is based on soil moisture conditions, current Plains and mountain snowpack and long-term temperature and precipitation outlook.
“We are going into the 2020 season with extremely wet soils,” Kevin Low, a National Weather Service hydrologist, noted during the telephone briefing. “Wet soil conditions greatly increase flooding in the eastern part of the basin.”
The Corps’ Kevin Grode noted that the saturated soil will not retain any more moisture, leading to more runoff into the river. The increased releases from Gavins Point Dam will help the Corps maintain storage for the expected higher runoff later in the spring.
“The Corps is well aware of the damage the floods have caused, and we are doing our best to prevent it,” Grode said.
John Remus, chief of the Corps’ Missouri River Basin Water Management Division, also explained the benefits of the increased release upstream.
“The higher-than-average winter releases from Gavins Point will allow us to maintain more flood storage for a longer period,” Remus said. “This will provide flexibility to respond to runoff events downstream of Gavins Point while giving consideration to the ongoing levee rehabilitation construction efforts.”