Gavins Point Dam

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is ready to move the Missouri River into what it’s calling “drought reserve mode” and it’ll mean much less water flowing downriver.

Corps spokeswoman Monique Farmer says water levels will drop by the end of the month.

Winter releases from Gavins Point Dam, near Yankton, South Dakota, will be dropped to minimum levels, averaging around 12,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) starting on December 1st and running through the end of February.

Current release levels from the dam have been running more than three times that level, at 38,000 CFS.

Farmer says the Corps’ forecast for next spring has the reservoirs down drastically. They’re expecting to be about 8-million acre feet below the base of the annual flood control and multiple use zone, so the three major reservoirs in the system may be drawn down 8 to 12 feet lower than what would normally be seen at this time of year.

It was just last summer that reservoirs and releases hit record high levels during the spring and summer flooding. Releases from Gavins Point hit just over 160,000 CFS. Farmer says they will step down releases gradually to allow downstream water users to adjust. They’ll cut the releases initially to around 18,000 CFS and hold for a few days.

That will give cities and individuals who have their water intakes in the river the chance to see how they may be impacted. After a few days, water levels will be cut further to the projected 12,000 CFS, where it should remain until March. The plan is raising concerns. Leaders in the state of Missouri fear such a drop in water levels on the Missouri River will impact the Mississippi River so much, barge traffic may have to be halted.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton