Engineers who built dams on the Missouri River filled the reservoirs more than forty years ago, but the lakes today are at their lowest point since then. The plan for managing the Missouri calls for releasing a spring surge of water to mimic natural flows, but that plan’s been canceled this year.
Paul Johnston, a spokesman with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Omaha, says the reason is the same problem that’s plagued the region for years now. It’s continued drought, says Johnston, with parts of the upper basin entering their eighth year of drought. The three big reservoirs are down about 30 feet below their normal levels.
Last year the barge shipping season was cut short, leaving farmers to find other ways to haul off their harvest from the Sioux City terminal. The reservoir system must contain at least 36-and-a-half-million acre-feet of water for the March spring rise to go forward, but it’s more than two-million-acre feet short. Even with expected spring rains and runoff from melting mountain snowpack, those water levels not expected to increase enough for spring rise in May.