Higher summer in store for Lake Sakakawea

With each month’s runoff outlook in 2014 the projected water elevation for Lake Sakakawea this year has increased. Once again that is the case, according to the latest runoff numbers supplied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The increase is substantial but remains well within the operational capabilities of the reservoir.

The Corps now expects 32.0 million acre feet of water to enter the Missouri River system this year, primarily from snowmelt runoff. The latest projections show an increase of more than two feet in the expected high for Lake Sakakawea in 2014. The March outlook projected 30.6 maf of water and called for a season high water mark of 1,845 feet for Lake Sakakawea. The latest outlook increases the expected high to 1,847.1 feet.

Lake Sakakawea had a reading of 1,835.8 feet at the end of March this year. That compares to 1,827.2 feet at the same time one year ago. The reservoir stood at 1,836.06 feet yesterday.

In addition to 1.4 million more acre feet of water projected to enter the state’s largest reservoir, the Corps has also increased projected outflows as compared to one month earlier. Releases are slated to average 27,000 cubic feet per second in May, 30,000 cfs in June, 29,000 cfs in July and August. That is an increase from the March outlook which called for releases of 23,000 cfs in May, 27,000 cfs in June, and 26,000 cfs in July and August.

The mountain snowpack water content survey gathered April 3 showed the “Total above Fort Peck” reach containing 132 percent more water than the 30 year average. The “Total Fort Peck to Garrison” reach was rated at 140 percent of normal. Generally, the total above Fort Peck is considered the Missouri River drainage and Fort Peck to Garrison the Yellowstone River drainage. The latter projection also includes plains snowpack which has been minimal this year.

The mountain snowpack that melts into the Missouri and Yellowstone River drainages, both of which enter Lake Sakakawea, continues to track slightly higher than it was in the record high water year of 2011. According to long-term data, peak accumulation of snow normally occurs near April 15.

Jodi Farhat, Corps’ Missouri River Basin Water Management Division in Omaha, Neb., said, “The Corps will continue to monitor the plains and mountain snowpack, basin soil conditions and rainfall events to fine tune the regulation of the reservoir system based on the most up-to-date information.”

Lake Sakakawea’s overflow level is 1,854 feet, about seven feet below the projected high for 2014.