US Army Corps of Engineers
Northwestern Division

News Releases

Missouri Basin flood response update – 11/7

Published Nov. 8, 2019

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers emergency and water management officials held a call Nov. 7 to communicate to Midwest Congressional representatives, Tribal, state and local government officials (including levee sponsors and emergency managers) an update of current runoff conditions, system storage and a status of flooding response and recovery activities.

There were 60 people on the call.

Missouri Basin Web App

All of the information provided on these calls is accessible through the Missouri Basin “Web App.” The information at the links in the web app is the most up-to-date information from the National Weather Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. https://go.usa.gov/xmtYU.

National Weather Service

Scott Dummer from the Missouri Basin River Forecast Center, National Weather Service, provided an update on river stages along the Missouri River and its tributaries.

“The past month since our last call on October 10th we have remained hydrologically active. We have had precipitation across the entire Missouri River basin, with significant rainfall occurring over northern Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, south-central North Dakota, and Missouri. Some locations receiving in excess of 300% of normal for this period. Many locations have received in excess of 4 inches of precipitation, with as much as 8 inches in Missouri,” said Dummer.

An early season snowpack has developed over much of the upper basin, including Montana, Wyoming, and western North and South Dakota. Estimates of plains snow water equivalent, that is, the water contained in the snowpack, vary from a trace upwards to more than 4 to 5 inches in the mountains of Wyoming and Montana.

Rivers and tributaries in flood stage include:

Missouri River:

Nebraska City, Nebraska through St. Joseph, Missouri and from Napoleon through Miami, Missouri - minor flooding

South Dakota:

James River - minor to major flooding

Big Sioux River - minor flooding at Watertown

Kansas:

Big Blue River - minor flooding above Tuttle Creek Reservoir (backwater flooding)

NWS Forecast next 7 days

“We are now watching an evolving winter storm expected Monday into Tuesday extending from Montana into northeastern Wyoming and Western South Dakota. The snow water equivalent associated with this evolving system in the Dakotas could bring as much as an inch of snow water equivalent to the heaviest hit areas,” said Dummer.

After the winter storm on Tuesday, only light amounts of additional precipitation of no more than 1⁄4 inch are expected Wednesday into next Friday, for Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, with the rest of the Missouri River basin being free of precipitation through Nov. 15.

“Unfortunately, the long-range outlooks favor the odds of wetter-than-normal conditions for the Missouri Basin at least through January with a greater than 50% chance of Major Flooding in the James River Basin,” said Dummer.

The National Weather Service provides official river stage and weather forecasts. Its website -- www.weather.gov/mbrfc -- provides river observations and forecasts; weather observations and forecasts, and additional information including the spring flood outlook under items of seasonal interest. The Corps’ Missouri River Water Management Division shares all release forecasts with the National Weather Service for incorporation into their forecast products.

NWS - Spring River Flood Outlook

The first quantitative Spring River Flood Outlook, which is issued by the National Weather Service will be issued in early February 2020. Dates will be publicized as soon as they are available.

Upper Missouri River System (above Sioux City, Iowa)

“Throughout the year there has been a lot of discussion regarding the congressionally authorized purposes and the operational priorities for the system.  It is important to understand that authorized purposes and priorities are not the same thing. While the system is authorized for eight purposes, the Corps' priority is life and health safety. In large runoff years, such as 2018 and 2019, or during an extreme hydrologic event, the flood control purpose drives the Corps operational decisions for the System. During average or below-average runoff years, the Corps operates the System for flood control and also makes releases to meet flow targets in the lower river, for other purposes, such as navigation and water supply. Due to high runoffs, system operational decisions have been driven by the flood control purpose, since March of 2018. I want to assure everyone in the basin that the Corps remains fully committed to our flood risk reduction mission, protecting stakeholders when we can from significant runoff events that pose a threat to human health and safety” said John Remus, chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division,

In 2019 Mother Nature has made managing runoff in the Missouri River Basin very challenging.  People throughout the basin have been and/or continue to be directly impacted, some severely impacted. The Corps is well aware of the damage that this year flooding has caused, and we are doing all we can to reduce the impacts and assist in the recovery.

It is important to understand that floods can and will occur regardless of basin or system conditions, including ice-induced flooding during the winter freeze in and spring breakup periods, and flooding due to thunderstorms particularly along the lower Missouri River which cannot be mitigated by the operation of the mainstem reservoirs.

It is important to understand that the volume, timing and location at which runoff enters the system significantly impacts the timing and amount of releases.  Each runoff season or flooding event is unique.  Care should be taken when comparing one event to another,” said Remus.

2019 continues to be a very wet year throughout the basin.  This has led to excessive runoff into the reservoirs, and into the unregulated streams below the system.

The system status and operations are aimed at evacuating the water from the flood control zones in the reservoirs before the 2020 runoff season begins.

“Given the basin conditions, our plan is to be as aggressive as we can with the evacuation process this fall, and again next spring in order to provide the greatest amount of the flexibility in the system. We will continue to evaluate the conditions on the ground and make adjustments as necessary,” said Remus.

Calendar Year Runoff (above Sioux City, Iowa)

Kevin Stamm with the Missouri River Water Management Division provided an update on runoff conditions for the 2019 calendar year, which is now forecast to be 60.2 million acre feet (MAF), down slightly from the Oct. 1 but still nearly 2.5 times the average recorded runoff. This information is updated each month and posted here: https://go.usa.gov/xVtFq

“As of Nov. 7, the observed upper basin runoff to date is 57.1 MAF, which is the second highest runoff volume in 121 years of record,” said Stamm.

The 2019 forecast runoff would nearly equal the previous record runoff of 61.0 MAF in 2011.

October runoff in the upper Basin was well-above average, as a result of well above-average late summer and fall precipitation, primarily in September.

By reservoir reach, October runoff was over 6 times the average runoff in the Oahe reach, over 3 times the average runoff in the Gavins Point reach, and almost 10 times the average runoff in the Gavins Point to Sioux City reach due to high streamflow from the James, Vermillion and Big Sioux Rivers. This resulted in record high October runoff in the upper Missouri Basin.

“Our November 1 runoff forecast shows that we are expecting above-average runoff for the remaining 2 months of 2019. For November, we are forecasting runoff to be 2 times the long-term average. This is largely in part to the tributaries continuing to flow much above average from the September and October precipitation along with the soil moisture conditions being extremely wet, which limits infiltration from any precipitation events. For December, our forecast indicates that we are expecting runoff to be about 180% of average,” said Stamm.

Reservoir Storage and Regulation

Mike Swenson the power production team leader provided an update on the three-week forecast issued on Nov. 6. System storage is currently 60.1 MAF. Storage decreased 3.2 MAF during October, and has decreased nearly 0.8 MAF since the end of October. 4.0 MAF of the 16.3 MAF of total flood storage is occupied. https://go.usa.gov/xVgWr.

The updated 3-week forecast shows Gavins Point releases will be held at 80,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) through November to manage reservoir levels and continue evacuating water from the reservoirs. Releases will then step down to the winter release of 22,000 cfs by about mid-December.

Fort Randall reservoir is at elevation 1345.8, down 2.4 feet since the end of October.  Releases from Fort Randall are currently 76,000 cfs and are expected to remain near than rate over the next week.

Oahe reservoir is at elevation 1612.5, down 0.4 feet since the end of October. The reservoir is 5.0 feet above the base of the annual flood control zone. Releases from Oahe are currently about 65,000 cfs and are expected to remain at that rate during November.

Garrison reservoir is at elevation 1841.4, down 0.9 feet since the end of October. The reservoir is 3.9 feet above the base of the annual flood control zone. Releases are forecast to remain at 48,000 cfs through about Nov. 19, and will then be gradually stepped down during the last part of November.  As releases are reduced in late November, spillway releases will be discontinued.

Fort Peck reservoir is at elevation 2240.3, down 0.5 feet since the end of October. The reservoir is 6.3 feet above the base of the annual flood control zone. Releases from Fort Peck are expected to remain at 15,000 cfs through November.

“We will continue to monitor conditions in the basin and make any necessary release adjustments through the fall,” said Swenson.

Lower Missouri River Basin (Kansas and Osage River Reservoirs)

Paul Simon, a hydraulic engineer from the water management division in the Kansas City District provided an update on the status of the reservoirs on the Kansas River and the Osage River. This information is available on their website at: https://go.usa.gov/xmhrd.

Over the last month up to 12 inches of rain fell south of Jefferson City with the majority of rain in the Osage River Basin and up to two inches of rain fell across the Kansas River Basin.

Progress has been made over the last month to bring the Kansas Reservoirs out of phase II and most of the other District projects are now at or below 5% of their respective flood control pools.

An approved deviation allows Missouri River flows  at Waverly to be increased to 140,000 cfs for Phase I. The Missouri River at Waverly is currently at 135,000 cfs.

Milford Dam is releasing 5,000 cfs and may increase to 6,000 cfs tomorrow,

Tuttle Creek Dam is releasing 11,000 cfs and may increase to 12,000 cfs tomorrow.

Perry Dam is releasing 3,000 cfs, and

Clinton Dam  is releasing 1,000 cfs. 

The current releases from these projects are being managed in an effort to empty all accumulated flood storage by Dec. 31, depending on the timing, location and amounts of rainfall that might occur between now and then.

At the current rate of inflows and releases, all flood storage will be empty by mid-December, but future rainfall events may delay the drawdown later into December.

Kansas City District Emergency Response

Mike Dulin, an emergency manager for the Kansas City District reported that the Emergency Operations Center remains activated at Level 2, Partial Activation, and will continue to operate at Level 2 until further notice.

“Missouri River stages have leveled off over the last couple weeks but remain higher than normal for this time of year in several locations. There are still five Missouri River gauges in the Kansas City District in minor flood stage,” said Dulin.

Requests for levee rehabilitation assistance has gone up to 108, up 2 since Oct. 11, resulting in approximately 67 levee rehabilitation projects after multiple requests for segmented levee systems were bundled together.

Of the 58 project information reports submitted to Northwestern Division for approval, 54 have been approved and will now enter the engineering and design phase.

“Three of the approved projects have recently been advertised for construction and we have received bids back for one of those projects. We anticipate the majority of levee rehabilitation projects to be advertised this winter with bids following 30 days from the date of advertisement,” said Dulin.

Three Levee Sponsor outreach meetings were conducted in Missouri over last few weeks, one in Napoleon, another in Holt County, and the final in Washington. All three meetings were very well attended with several levee owner/operators at each.

“The intent of these meetings is to keep levee sponsors informed of the rehabilitation process and provide guidance on cost share options, real estate agreements, easements, and project cooperation agreements, all of which are required before construction can begin,” said Dulin.

Construction on the emergency measure to close breaches on the Big Tarkio Levee in Holt County, Missouri is nearing completion, rock placement solid be complete early next week.

Rock placement at the Mill Creek breach continues to be stalled due to inaccessibility related to flooding.

“We had a plan in place to improve our accessibility to the site by raising Highway 111, however, the contractor has proposed an alternative method to gain access by constructing a temporary flood barrier on the north side of the highway and then pumping water off the road to gain access. If this modification is approved, work to clear the highway could begin sometime next week. BNSF Railroad is requiring a permit for haul trucks to use an existing temporary crossing near the worksite, and the Mill Creek Dyke and Drainage District is working to update their insurance policy to meet BNSF requirements needed to issue the permit,” said Dulin.

Omaha District Emergency Response

Matt Krajewski, Readiness Branch Chief with the Omaha District reported that the Emergency Operations Center remains activated at Level 3 and continues to monitor basin conditions in all states within the District’s boundaries.

“To date, we have completed 14 initial breach closures with 19 remaining. There are an additional 16 breaches on federal levees within Omaha’s area of responsibility that are inactive in the PL 84-99 program, and therefore ineligible for federal assistance,” said Krajewski.

A contract was recently awarded to repair damages to the Omaha Missouri River

Right Bank Levee that runs from a mile-and-a-half south of the I-680 Missouri River Bridge to one-half mile south of the South Omaha Veterans memorial Bridge; and primarily protects the City of Omaha.

Tributary Levees

  • Pierce-North Branch of the Elkhorn River, Nebraska - repairs complete ahead of schedule
  • Broken Bow-Mud Creek, Nebraska - repairs complete ahead of schedule
  • Ida Grove/Odebolt Creek, Iowa  - repairs complete ahead of schedule

The damage to the tributary levees consisted mainly of erosion of the river side of the levees from the high flows and also damage to the crest (top) of the levees where overtopping occurred.

  • Western Sarpy and Cedar Creek along the Platte River - repairs underway expected completion April 2020
  • Columbus along the Loup River - repairs underway expected completion April 2020
  • Scribner and Columbus along Pebble Creek & the Elkhorn River - repairs underway expected completion April 2020

Missouri River Levees

L-611/614 south of Council Bluffs, Iowa - repairs to crest damage and sideslope damage

L-594 east side breach was closed Oct. 12, and the west side breach was closed Oct. 28. These closures stop inflows in this area and will allow for follow-on construction activities.

L-575 the contractor is stockpiling clay to continue repairs. An additional contract is expected to be awarded before the end of the month to continue repairs. 

L-550 the contractor is placing clay material on the breach closures to increase the resiliency of this levee.

L-536 site conditions and other considerations, have deferred work until early next year.

R-613 changing site conditions are causing delays to completing initial repairs to the end of the month and will not affect the schedule of the Papio NRD’s Section 408 raise of the levee.

“Engineering and design continues on several other levees on the Missouri River and tributaries.  As these designs are completed, we continue to move forward with contract awards,” said Krajewski.

Omaha District levee status information is updated on their website at: https://go.usa.gov/xmtYB.

“We continue to remain vigilant monitoring storms, runoff, and gage readings; and we can’t reiterate enough that life safety continues to be the primary focus of our efforts to repair the levee systems. We continue to work with federal, state, and local emergency management agencies to keep the public informed,” said Krajewski.

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Related Link: Omaha District Levees

Related Link: Kansas City District Levees

Related Link: Kansas City District Lower Missouri Basin Tributary Reservoirs

Related Link: USACE Missouri River 3-Week Forecast

Related Link: USACE Monthly Runoff Study

Related Link: NWS Missouri Basin River Forecast Center

Related Link: Missouri Basin Web App

Related Audio: Missouri Basin Update Podcast

Related Audio: DVIDS Recording 10/10 Call


Contact
Eileen Williamson
402-996-3802
eileen.l.williamson@usace.army.mil

Release no. 19-130