Slight boost for Lake Sakakawea

The June runoff outlook for the Missouri River system contains increased water levels for Lake Sakakawea when compared to the May outlook. The forecasts are compiled monthly by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

According to the Corps, runoff into the Missouri River system is now expected to be 21.2 million acre feet of water. That is an increase of 1.2 maf over the May outlook but still well below the long term norm of 24.8 maf. According to Jody Farhat, chief of Missouri River Basin water management in the Corps’ Omaha, Neb., office, the outlook includes impact from heavy rainfall that deluged much of Montana and North Dakota in recent days.

“We did see some improvement in runoff in the Upper Basin,” said Farhat. “That was really the result of rain that we had in Montana and North Dakota.”

Lake Sakakawea stood at 1,831.7 feet Friday afternoon and is projected to end the month at 1,832.4 feet. That is an increase of half a foot over the May outlook.

If the June 1 projections hold true, Lake Sakakawea would peak at just under 1,833 feet in late July. If so, that mark would be 1 1/2 feet higher than what was expected one month ago. Overall though, the expected amount of water pales in comparison to previous summer rises for Lake Sakakawea.

“The three upper reservoirs, Fort Peck, Sakakawea and Oahe, are still 6 to 9 feet low as a result of last year’s drought. Even with better runoff we are not anticipating they will refill this year,” said Farhat.

Despite expectations of less than normal runoff, no boat ramp access problems are expected this summer based on current projected water levels. There is concern that Lake Sakakawea will enter the winter of 2013-2014 at a lower level than normal and be dependent upon heavy winter snowfall to produce a rising reservoir in 2014.

Lake Sakakawea reached a level of more than 1,836 feet in the summer of 2012 before finishing the year just under 1,830 feet. The most recent projections provided by the Corps show Lake Sakakawea dropping to 1,829.1 feet by Dec. 31 of this year.

“It really depends on what the weather does for the remainder of the summer,” explained Farhat. “If it is dry, the reservoirs will drop. Last summer it was dry in the upper basin and very, very dry in the lower basin.”

Releases through the Missouri River dams for navigation and power generation also play an important role in water levels. Recently, releases were reduced from Gavins Point Dam on the lower portion of the Missouri due to downstream flooding. However, noted Farhat, releases are working back up to previous levels.