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Lake Sakakawea and the Corps of Engineers

2818 Views 5 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  bioman
Just curious if anyone can fill me in on the current situation on Lake Sakakawea? Any idea where the water levels will be this summer and whether or not they'll be able to keep the lake out of the "danger zone" for the shmelt?
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Doug Lier had someone on his show Sat. that said the lake level will be held at or above 1822 to 1822.5. for spring spawn etc. I did not understand if this level was the target level or a lower level was possible sometimne later in the year.

I attended the meeting the Corps. held in Dickinson on April 17, and several of us spent some time discussing the situation with Todd Lindquist, Operations Manager at Riverdale. According to Mr. Lindquist and the hand-out provided at the meeting, projected Garrison levels are as follows: 31 May-1821.8, 30 Jun-1822.5, 31 Jul-1822.2, 31 Aug-1821.1, 30 Sep-1820.8, 31 Oct-1820.8, 30 Nov-1820.9, 31 Dec-1819.4, 31 Jan (04)-1817.9, 29 Feb (04)-1816.9. The frightening aspect of the numbers is that there is no "June rise" reflected in the projections. We currently have just over 100% of average snowpack in the Yellowstone basin, so surely we could expect an increase in lake level due to that snow melt, but not according to the Corps. numbers. I am afraid the run-off we do get into Sak will be passed straight through to the downstream interests.

Another frightening tidbit... The Corps also handed out an informational sheet pertaining to boat ramps on the lake, and their ramp study uses elevation 1809 as the benchmark for possible ramp extensions. It bothers me just a little that the Corps projects a low lake level of 1816, but we need ramp extensions to 1809. Not many boats require 7' to float off a trailer. Maybe the Corps is just planning some margin...OR...maybe they expect actual lake levels to drop below 1816.

As to the smelt situation, there was no one from Game and Fish at the Corps meeting, and I haven't heard any assessment of the impact on the smelt, but judging from past experience during the low lake levels of 90 and 91, I'm sure we can expect some smelt loss and decreased spawning success. Dale Henegar, the father of smelt introduction into the the Missouri River impoundments, told me years ago that elevation 1825' was the critical level for successful smelt reproduction.

And for the good news.....ah, I don't know any.
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Look in Dakota country magazine, they of monthly reports on water levels for the missouri river system.
At the current rate the water is being managed we'll be lucky to see the Corps guesses at lake levels. Why is it when there is only about 12000 CFS coming in the corp insists on releasing 19500? By the time any June rise gets here, the bump in lake levels we experienced earlier this spring will be long gone. Hopefully the 2 year old Corp manager will turn 3 soon and figure out that water management should be based on what is actually coming into the system, not what is wanted by Missouri.
Sorry for the length, but this should provide some additional information, especially to the ESA flow requirements

WASHINGTON, DC, April 25, 2003 (ENS) - Competing federal agencies said Wednesday that they have come to agreement on a water management plan for the Missouri River reservoirs for the late spring and summer of 2003.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said their agreement complies with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) while reinforcing the reliability of the system of reservoirs "to meet the multiple congressionally authorized project purposes."

"We have worked collaboratively with the Corps to address the issues associated with the near-term operation of the Missouri River System in 2003," said Ralph Morgenweck, Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Mountain-Prairie Region.

"The water management plan is for this year only, and the Service remains committed to implementing the long-term measures necessary to return ecological health to the Missouri River."

Agency officials say the agreement takes particular concern to address two migratory birds - the endangered interior least tern and the threatened piping plover. Both species are listed on the ESA and their nests can be threatened by rising river levels.

The plan is to set a release rate of 26,000 cubic feet per second to 27,000 cubic feet per second from Gavins Point Dam, near Yankton, South Dakota, when the birds initiate nesting.

Additionally, use of three Kansas River Corps reservoirs that are authorized to provide Missouri River flow support will be used if appropriate.

"The Corps and Service agree that the plan minimizes impacts to the birds and loss of their nesting habitat, minimizes reservoir draw downs, and provides more reliability for the congressionally authorized purposes of the dams and reservoirs," said Brig. Gen. David Fastabend, Northwestern Division Engineer.

The Corps and the Service say they do not plan to move tern and plover eggs and chicks threatened by inundation from navigation flows.

The short term and the long term management of the Missouri River's water flow has been the subject of debate for many years. Conservationists are moving forward with a suit filed in February against the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in February for failing to update the operations of six dams that inhibit the flow of the Missouri river.

The groups seek immediate changes in dam operation to reverse the river's ecological decline and charge that by failing to update operations, the Corps is in violation of the Flood Control Act of 1944, the ESA and the Administrative Procedures Act.

The Corps has been on notice since 1990 that its current plan jeopardizes the continued existence of at least three native river species in violation of the Endangered Species Act. By favoring one river use over all others, the Corps is violating its own controlling authority on the Missouri, the Flood Control Act of 1944. And, 14 years of delay amounts to a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

The case has been filed in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, but hearings have yet to be scheduled.

Army Corps officials say discussions on the the Master Manual, which governs long term water management of the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System, will begin soon.
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