My travels last weekend with the Montana Outdoor Radio Show landed me in Glasgow, in far northeastern Montana. I was honored to be the master of ceremonies for the Montana Walleyes Unlimited state banquet.
I also had a chance while I was over in the area to drop in and chat with some of the folks with the US Army Corps of Engineers to talk about lake levels were forecast for Fort Peck Reservoir this summer.
“If the moisture remains normal for the next few months, I think that we can expect the lake to rise again,” said John Daggett, the Corps’ Project Manager for Fort Peck Dam. “Last year, the level of the lake came up 10-feet and this year we are looking for it to rise at another 6 to8 feet.”
There are, of course, a number of factors that go into determining if the 134 mile lake level is going to rise or fall during any given year. This year, the amount of snow that North Dakota has received is one of the reasons.
Garrison Dam, downriver from Fort Peck, was actually shut down for two days with no discharge because of North Dakota runoff that was causing flooding.
“That move with Garrison Dam was unprecedented. The discharge has never been shut off completely before,” said Daggett.
With more water downriver Fort Peck has less of a need to discharge water. During April, for example, the discharge average is projected to be 4000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Last year in April, the average discharge for the month was 6020 cfs. Next month, the projected discharge rate is again 4000 cfs compared to 7574 cfs in May 2008.
As a result of the decrease in average monthly discharge and the near 100 percent of snowpack currently held in the mountain bases that drain into Fort Peck Reservoirs, the lake elevation will rise to 2215.9 feet compared to 2200.33 last May.
“We are also expecting the lake to rise another three feet by July and August,”, said Daggett.
Fort Peck’s lake elevation usually peaks in late July after runoff from mountain snowmelt and early summer rains. However, Fort Peck should continue to rise through next fall and winter because releases will be held as low as possible. The reason for this is because the other two big storage reservoirs downstream, Oahe and Garrison have higher lake levels than Fort Peck. “We like to have the storage levels balanced in the three big reservoirs and Fort peck is behind right now,” Daggett said.
Maintaining lake levels on the Missouri river reservoirs is a complicated process to say the least. But the one thing that makes everybody’s job easier is to have the water in the first place.