Gavins Point Dam

Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, SD

(Omaha) -- Higher-than-average releases will continue from the Missouri River water management system through November.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials say releases from the Gavins Point Dam will remain at 80,000 cubic feet per second for the remainder of this month. After that, outflows are expected to drop to 22,000 cfs by mid-December. John Remus is chief of the corps' Missouri River Water Management Division. Remus says the release rate is more than twice the average for this time of year. He says the releases are aimed at evacuating water from the flood control zones in the reservoirs before the 2020 runoff season begins.

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

During the corps' monthly conference call Thursday, Remus was asked whether the corps can maintain the current flood storage levels through the remainder of the year.

"We're evacuating a considerable amount of water every day," he said, "120-to-130 thousand acre feet a day. So, we're making progress. It would have to be a pretty catastrophic or pretty significant precipitation event to lock us in where we're at."

Throughout the year, Remus says there's been a lot of discussion regarding the congressionally-authorized purposes, and the operational priorities for the system. He says it's important to understand that authorized purposes and priorities are not the same thing.

"It is important to understand that authorized purposes and priorities are not the same thing," said Remus. "While the system is authorized for eight purposes, the corps' priority is life and health safety. In large runoff years in 2018 and 2019, ordinarily an extreme hydrological 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 low targets on the lower river for other purposes such as navigation and water supply."

Due to high runoffs, Remus says the corps' system operational decisions have been driven by flood control purposes since March of 2018. Corps officials add the January-October observed runoff of 56.7 million acre feet has already exceeded the second highest runoff--49.0 MAF--observed in 1997--with two months still remaining.