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Update: Portion Of Missouri River Closed Due To Flooding

(Note: this is an updated version of an article first posted to waterwaysjournal.net at 9 a.m. March 15.)

In response to developing flood conditions in the upper Missouri basin, the Corps of Engineers rapidly increased releases from Gavins Point Dam March 13–14.

As a result, the Coast Guard on March 15 closed the river from Mile 450 (St. Joseph, Mo.) to Mile 550 (50 miles south of Omaha, Neb.) to all vessel traffic, due to high water levels and dangerous currents.

The Coast Guard and Corps also requested that all operators create as minimal wake as possible between St. Joseph and Mile 375 near Kansas City, Mo., to minimize levee damage.

Restrictions to operations will be lifted as soon as conditions improve, the Coast Guard said in the announcement.

“The safety of the maritime public is the Coast Guard’s top priority,” said Lt. James Long, Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River, the contingency planning and force readiness chief.

The Coast Guard captain of the port determines when to issue a river closure by following a waterways action plan, which provides marine industry, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state and local governments with a coordinated plan for facilitating the safe and orderly movement of traffic during extreme conditions on the inland rivers.

On March 13, Col. Doug Guttormsen, Kansas City Engineer District commander, declared a flood emergency within the district and activated the district’s Emergency Operations center to an “Emergency Watch” condition.

Gavins Point Dam is the lowest of the large upstream reservoirs on the Missouri River operated by the Corps of Engineers. Releases from the dam were increased from 27,000 cubic feet per second (cfs.). to 32,000 cfs. at midnight March 13, and then again to 37,000 the following morning. Later on March 14, the releases were increased to 50,000 cfs., with plans that afternoon to increase to 60,000 cfs.

By 8 p.m. that night, the Corps had hiked the releases to 90,000 cfs.

The runoff in the drainage area between Fort Randall and Gavins Point Dam is high and continues to increase, due to rapid plains snowmelt and heavy rain on frozen, wet soils in the Niobrara River basin.  The area directly upstream Gavins Point continues to receive heavy rain.

“We know there are communities experiencing flooding, or nearing that condition, along the Missouri River downstream of our dams,” said John Remus, chief of the Corps’ Missouri River Water Management Division in Omaha, Neb.  “We are managing releases from Gavins Point as judiciously as we can in order to lessen the impact downstream.”

There is little storage capacity behind Gavins Point Dam, forcing the Corps to release much of the water that enters the reservoir, according to Remus.

Releases from Fort Randall Dam, the Missouri main stem dam immediately upstream of Gavins Point Dam, were halted completely on March 13 and were expected to remain at 0 cfs. for several days.

“We strongly advise everyone along the Missouri River to maintain awareness of local conditions and changing river levels,” said Remus.

The Corps said that it is working the National Weather Service to monitor conditions. The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings along the Missouri River and its tributaries from southeastern South Dakota to St. Louis, Mo.

The Corps said that it will maintain close communication and coordination with its federal, state and local emergency response partners, and keep the public informed.

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