Archive for Friday, February 23, 2001

Snowmelt runoff to dip, corps of engineers says

February 23, 2001


— The Missouri River may be lower than normal through the summer because of last year's drought and lighter snowfall, which could spare the Kansas City region from flooding.

The river is usually 8 to 9 feet deep around Kansas City in the winter, hydrologist Stephen Spaulding of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.

It is at 6 to 7 feet this winter, but will rise, with depths hitting 13 feet during the summer shipping season.

Local rain and snow affect the river's depth, but the flow is mainly controlled by the amount of water released from upstream reservoirs.

The corps is releasing less water from upstream reservoirs in the Dakotas, with some still more than 10 feet low because of drought.

Exposed sandbars in the riverbed at Kansas City this winter reflect the corps' efforts to boost upstream reservoir water for release during the coming barge shipping season.

The river dropped below the intakes of some Kansas City area water companies this winter because of low river flow coupled with ice jams.

Those problems are not expected again, but the corps is hoping a wet spring will raise water levels for the summer barge season without further lowering lake levels upstream, which harms the recreation and tourism industry.

"They'll be releasing just the minimum flows for navigation this year," Spaulding said.

That could mean more sandbar groundings for barges and lost profits for shipping companies because barges can't be loaded as heavily, he said.

Winter storms that normally blanket the Rockies and Plains instead dumped snow and rain on the Kansas City region and the upper Midwest. Spring snowmelt runoff in the entire basin is expected to be at least one-third below normal, said Larry Murphy, of the corps' Omaha, Neb., office.

"Storms just kept tracking below our reservoir system," Murphy said. "They're just getting light dustings upstream. Essentially during late December and January, we didn't get any water accumulation in the mountains at all."

Heavy spring and summer rains could still create localized flooding along the Missouri, the National Weather Service warned.

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