Mo. River gets boost from northern reservoirs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Some of the same reservoirs that were blamed last year for causing flooding along the Missouri River are providing a big boost this year as a severe drought continues with no signs of letting up.

The river had depleted this year’s supply of snowpack and rain, and on Friday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started tapping reserves in lakes upriver in North Dakota and Montana.

The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/N5lZwE ) reported Sunday that unlike the Mississippi River on the eastern side of the state — which was 15 feet below normal near Memphis, Tenn., last week — and several waterways in states like Kansas and Nebraska, the Missouri River has stayed level aside from dropping a foot in a few places downstream from Kansas City.

“It’s been a dry fall, winter, spring and summer,” said Jody Farhat, chief of Missouri River water management for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “We haven’t really been impacted.”

Farhat said there is plenty of water in the north to keep the Missouri River going. The “bank account” of reservoir water is designed to get the region through a 12-year Dust Bowl scenario, she said.

It’s not unusual for the corps to draw the reservoirs down each year to make room for new runoff. That gives the Missouri River an advantage many others don’t have.

The drought has hurt the entire Mississippi River system, which depends on a number of tributary rivers that are now running low. Rivers in Kansas and Nebraska are reaching record lows and are experiencing critical shortages.

“It’s the drought,” said Chuck Sadie, chief of the corps’ Mississippi Valley division. “We just haven’t gotten that much rain in the Ohio and upper Mississippi. Most of our streams are below average.”

Lincoln, Neb., officials are concerned that the Platte River might not be able to supply the city through the drought and are talking about mandatory water restrictions. Lake Springfield in Illinois is falling by half an inch a day and already has lost 2 feet, prompting the city of Springfield to also consider water restrictions.

Kansas may be drier than all of them, although some waterways fed by reservoirs aren’t in bad condition, said Brian Loving, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Lawrence.

While the Kansas River is still flowing at about 70 percent of normal, other streams that rely on rainfall and groundwater — like many near Wichita and in the western part of the state — have been hit hard, Loving said.

Many Kansas streams could be setting new record lows, according to USGS records dating back to the 1930s.

“We have the potential for this to be the worst year since we’ve been keeping records,” Loving said.

And given a weather forecast that shows no break in the drought going into the usually dry months of August and September, “we kind of expect the river flows to get lower and lower,” he said.

Because of the upriver reservoirs, Kansas City has no immediate water worries.

“If those lakes weren’t there,” Loving said. “It would be different.”

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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