The water level projections for Lake Sakakawea continue to decline in sharp contrast to the record level of water that spilled out of the reservoir in 2011.
The latest runoff forecast for the Missouri River Basin has dipped to 20.7 million acre feet. The historic average is 24.8 maf.
Runoff into the Missouri and Yellowstone River systems was below normal in March and April but reached the long-term average in May. However, runoff into the system in June, July and August was significantly below normal. Historically, Lake Sakakawea can be expected to reach peak levels for the year in late summer. This year's peak occurred in June and the reservoir has been dropping since then.
Lake Sakakawea's elevation was recorded at 1,834.3 feet on Friday. While that level does not cause any problems with water supplies or recreational opportunities, it is more than one foot below what was forecast earlier in the year and the downward trend continues.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' September runoff outlook, Lake Sakakawea can be expected to drop below 1,830 feet in February 2013. That would mean normal or above normal runoff would likely be necessary next spring and summer for the Missouri River reservoirs to avoid further depletion.
In response to the latest runoff forecasts, the Corps has begun drought conservation measures throughout the Missouri River Basin. Winter releases from Gavins Point, the southern-most reservoir on the Missouri, will be at minimum levels, according to Jody Farhat, Chief of the Missouri Water Management Division in Omaha, Neb.
According to the Corps, winter releases from Gavins Point will average near 12,000 cubic feet per second with temporary increases above that level to keep water intakes along the lower river operational. Normal releases during winter at Gavins Point is nearly 17,000 cfs. Gavins Point releases averaged 37,800 cfs. in August.
Releases from Garrison Dam averaged 24,600 cfs in August and will remain near that level until later in September when they will be decreased to 19,500 cfs. Lake Sakakawea lost 2.4 feet of elevation in August and is forecast to decline another 1.2 feet this month.