The latest review of water levels in the Missouri River basin has the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sticking with its plan to shorten the barge shipping season this year by 44 days. Corps spokesman Paul Johnston says it could be worse. Last year they shortened it by 48 days, and by 47 days in 2004. There’s still a drought around the big reservoirs farther north on the river, and leaving the river’s water low is a good way to save a lot of water.
Johnston says the dam upriver from Sioux City at Gavins Point currently releases about 28-thousand cubic feet per second, but soon that will be cut way down to about ten-thousand C-F-S. He says people will notice at Sioux City. He calls it a “pretty significant drop” in early October that won’t come back up until ice begins to form, “as winter rolls into the Midwest.” The most severe effect may be on hydro-power plants upriver on the big dams that use the river’s flow to generate electricity.
They’re likely to produce only about 40-percent the usual amount of hydro-power, which will undersupply WAPA, the Weatern Area Power Administration. Normally it sells electricity to utilities all over the Midwest, but this summer it’s had to buy power, an expense that’ll be reflected in customers’ bills before long. That’s invariably at peak demand times of year, so they end up paying a premium price for that energy. It’s more than the contract price and eventually will have to raise rates for users.
Johnston says hydropower generation along the Missouri River has been down for the last several years because of the ongoing drought. In a normal year, the Corps’ six plants produce about 10-billion kilowatt hours of energy. The Missouri River’s barge navigation goes as far north as Sioux City and the last day of this year’s official navigation season will be September 8 at Sioux City, the tenth at Omaha, October 13 at Kansas City and the 17th at St.Louis.