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Drought persists in parts of Montana, Missouri River basin

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Drought

MSU Extension Agent Marko Manoukian checks a spring wheat field eaten by migrating grasshoppers near Malta in 2021.

About 62% of the Missouri River basin is currently experiencing some form of abnormally dry or drought conditions, with 6% in extreme or exceptional drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.

In Montana, drought is persisting in the north-central, central and northeast corners of the state, with extreme drought conditions still plaguing the area east of the Rocky Mountain Front.

Despite the continuing dry spell, the Missouri River basin saw improved runoff in June and July compared to what was originally forecast, but not enough to overcome the long-term drought persisting in much of the basin. That includes parts of Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska.

July runoff in the Missouri River basin above Sioux City, Iowa, was 3.2 million acre-feet, which is 98% of average and 0.7 MAF more than was forecast last month, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The annual runoff forecast of 20.6 MAF is 80% of average and 0.6 MAF higher than last month’s forecast.

“As expected, reservoir inflows in July have been declining due to the warmer and drier conditions in the upper Missouri River Basin,” said John Remus, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Missouri River Basin Water Management Division. 

Fort Peck Reservoir is forecast to drop almost another foot in August. The lake's level is currently about eight feet lower than last year at this time and 18 feet lower than in 2020.

Lower lake levels mean less hydropower production. The six power plants monitored by the Corps generated 728 million kilowatt hours of electricity in July. Typical energy generation for July is 960 million kWh. The power plants are expected to generate 7.1 billion kWh this year, down from the long-term average of 9.4 billion kWh.

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