Below are two articles on the continuing drought in the Dakota's that is resulting in extremely low river flows. Most power plants downstream get enormous amounts of cooling water directly out of the river. The new plants proposed by KCPL would get their water (7,000 gallons per minute!)from the aquifer below the river. I'm concerned that this would further drain our stressed drinking water aquifers - we had to conserve water 2 years ago during our drought because the aquifer was so low.

NPR News: Decreasing water levels in
Missouri River threaten
power production

February 7, 2005

RENEE MONTAGNE, host: Governors from six Midwestern states meet today in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to try to reach consensus over the water levels of the Missouri River. The upper basin is in the fifth year of a drought. River levels are so low that hydroelectric plants are having trouble generating enough electricity. South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds wants water held back before the river gets even lower. Without new measures, some predict downstream states could encounter rolling electricity blackouts next year. Cara Hetland of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

CARA HETLAND reporting: Effects of the drought can be seen here at what may be the most important dam on the Missouri River, Gavin's Point. (Soundbite of rushing water)

HETLAND: Gavin's Point manager Dave Becker points out water marks on a concrete wall about 10 feet above the river.

Mr. DAVE BECKER (Manager, Gavin's Point Dam): That's probably when we're at maximum output here, and then those higher water years, like the late '90s, we had some very, very wet years and were releasing, you know, on the order of 35,000 cubic feet per second.

HETLAND: The water that flows through the dam is half that now. Because of low water, hydropower production is down more than a third from last year. Since this is the last dam on the Missouri River, it's the one that determines how much water flows to neighboring states, and it's the US Army Corps of Engineers that makes that determination and controls the spigot. Experts predict that by next year, the river will be so low the Corps will be forced to turn the water down to a trickle. That's why Governor Mike Rounds is asking governors in affected states to pressure the Corps to change its operating procedure, detailed in what's called the Master Manual. Army Corps spokesman Paul Johnston says the manual takes into account both flooding and drought situations.

Mr. PAUL JOHNSTON (Spokesman, Army Corps of Engineers): We've made a commitment to the people of the basin that we're not going to make a change to that Master Manual without a very public process. The last time we had a public process on a significant change, it took us 14 years, so we'll--I think in the near term that we'll probably stick with the plan that's already out there.

HETLAND: After all, Johnston says, it just might rain. But if it doesn't, 18 coal-fired power plants downstream are in trouble because they rely on the river for cooling water. John Cruz(ph), professor at the University of Missouri, says there may not be enough water in the river to cool the power plants and he predicts they have to shut down a third of the time.

Professor JOHN CRUZ (University of Missouri): You can't move enough power around if you get significant demands all along the river, and you're particularly talking about, you know, the big city areas. You've got, you know, the Kansas City area there, you've got the Omaha area, you've got the St. Louis area.

HETLAND: Cruz says while many assume the utilities can just buy power off the grid, that won't work if all the plants up and down the river are forced to cut back production.

Prof. CRUZ: When you start to talk to them about, `Well, if you couldn't buy power from another reliability region because it was already being sourced for this purpose,' they'll look at you and say, `Well, you know, we always assume that we can buy unlimited power from other regions.'

HETLAND: Cruz predicts a significant rise in electric bill rates in the next couple of years to cover the cost of buying what power off the grid they can find. South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds believes if all of the states agree to his plan to hold back water before the river drops any further, then the Army Corps will have no choice. Rounds says reaching a consensus is a better option than taking the issue to court, but he isn't ruling that out.

This a report from the AP about the actual meeting...

Missouri River states can't
agree on water conservation

Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - A suggestion to tinker with the downstream navigation season as a means of saving water in the drought-affected Missouri River reservoirs was left high and dry.

At a Monday meeting of Missouri River states, Gov. Mike Rounds proposed changing how and when water is released for the downstream barge industry in order to keep more in the reservoirs and avoid a "navigational preclude" that's part of the Army Corps of Engineers' master manual for operating the dams and reservoirs.

When storage in the six reservoirs drops to 31 million acre-feet (maf), the corps will be required to save water in the reservoirs. Discharges would be too small to float barges downriver.

The system now has a record low 35 million acre-feet of water, compared to 57 maf normally. Based on current snowpack conditions and projected runoff, the corps and others acknowledge the 31 maf trigger is almost a certainty in the summer of 2006 and likely in 2007.

Rounds argued that holding back some water this year might be enough to avoid the trigger next year.

With Missouri's representative voicing the most opposition to that, Rounds was able only to get agreement that the governors would work on a resolution encouraging the corps to conserve water whenever possible.

Much of the day's discussion revealed familiar themes - upstream states with the reservoirs want more water kept in the lakes for recreation and domestic water supplies, while downstream states want a steady flow for navigation, to cool power plants and for their municipal water systems.

The navigational preclude may be an advantage for upper basin states, said North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, who backed Rounds' proposal.

"We may build up (reservoir levels) faster by just following the manual then actually what Mike is proposing, although I think Mike is making a good-faith effort to say, `Hey, let's learn from the past, let's conserve water, this affects everybody."

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heinemann and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer also attended. The governors of Missouri, Kansas and Iowa sent representatives.

Ron Kucera, of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said changing the flow schedule now would interfere with contracts already signed to haul fertilizer, asphalt and other products by barge this spring and summer.

"Our businesses, our farmers, need reliability and certainty (with water flows) and thought when we got a new master manual - even if they didn't like it - it would have some reliability and certainty," Kucera said.

There were presentations throughout the day illustrating how low water levels in the reservoir and low flows below Sioux City, Iowa affect fish reproduction, recreation and intakes that carry water to drinking water systems or power plant cooling systems.

Charles Murphy, chairman of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota and South Dakota, said low water on Lake Oahe led to siltation clogging the intake pipes on a water system. Schools, hospitals, businesses and 10,000 people were without water.

The tribe spent $3 million for a quick fix, to shuttle the elderly and hospital patients, and for temporary toilets.

"People suffered and they don't want this crisis again," Murphy said.

Emergency pumping systems for power plants and water systems can take years to design and build at a cost that generally is passed on to the consumer, said Darrell Dorsey, of the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities.

Rounds and Hoeven frequently pointed out that low-water problems in their states will spread to downstream states at the 31 maf trigger.

When downriver flows are low enough, power producers "will take it in the shorts," Rounds said.

"I did not realize that the persuasion of the barge industry would be greater than perhaps the persuasive discussion or points made by the power producing organizations or a whole lot of consumers in the lower basin," he told Kucera.

He intimated later that this may be the only time for compromise.

"I will tell you that it will be our (South Dakota) position that should we not find compromise on this issue this year, when preclude occurs next year we will most certainly ask that it be fully enforced in an effort to conserve water for the following year," Rounds said.

Schweitzer said the worry in his state is that with two years of low flow from the 31 maf trigger, downstream states will argue they aren't getting their share of water and will make it a political fight in Washington.

"We know preclude is not a good place to go politically," Schweitzer said.

"We know there's a master manual and some highfaluting folks worked on this for a dozen years and now it's all cast in concrete, but when folks don't have water to drink in big cities it becomes a big problem, not a little problem like it is when its 10,000 people on an Indian reservation in North or South Dakota," Schweitzer said.

Earlier, Wayne Nelson-Stastny with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks said there is below-normal snowdepth in the mountains and plains, and below-normal moisture content in what snow is on the ground.

"The basin is really entrenched in a pretty significant drought right now," he said.

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