According to the April reservoir forecast issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, spring runoff into the Missouri River Basin is near normal. However, Lake Sakakawea remains far below its long-term operating level. Thursday’s water level reading was 1,807.6 feet. The previous record low for March 31 was 1,808.7 feet, set in 2005 and equaled in 2007.
The April outlook is considered critical because the total accumulation of snow in the mountains and drainages of Montana historically peaks by April 15. Barring unseasonal and unexpected heavy snowstorms, the amount of water in the snowmelt probably will not change. Citing current conditions throughout the basin, the Corps has made very little change to what was earlier expected to occur on Lake Sakakawea this summer.
According to the latest outlook, the Corps expects Sakakawea’s summer peak to be 1,813.6 feet on July 31. That level is virtually identical to the March 1 forecast that called for a highwater mark of 1,813.7 for the monstrous reservoir this coming summer. The new figures once again reflect 20 million acre feet of total runoff expected in the basin for 2008. Runoff for 2007 totaled 21.5 million acre feet despite less snowfall than what occurred this past winter season.
The Montana snowpack content east of the Continental Divide didn’t get as much help as hoped for in March with snowfall in that month recorded at 83 percent of normal, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Bozeman, Mont. For the winter season, the USDA lists the snowpack east of the divide at 103 percent of average. However, that total is a 153 percent increase over the 2007 snowpack.
Lake Sakakawea has been at or near the 1,807.5 level this past week and is expected to remain there into May before a slight rise will bring the
reservoir up to 1,808.4 by Memorial Day. Several Lake Sakakawea boat ramps are not useable at the 1,808 level, meaning boaters might have to find alternative launching sites until the reservoir experiences a 3.5-foot rise in June. After that has occurred, Sakakawea is projected to hold steady at just over the 1,813 mark for the remainder of the year.
The low water level in Lake Sakakawea is evident in this photograph taken this week near the cabin site just north of Deepwater Bay. Deepwater Bay is located about 16 miles south of Parshall.