After last year's record-setting floods, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has worked this winter to drain its reservoirs along the Missouri River to make room for spring runoff.
The Corps announced this week that its reservoirs are entering spring with slightly more than its full capacity of flood control storage available.
"It's good news," Jody Farhat, chief of the Water Management Division, said in a statement. "Our goal following the flood of 2011 was to evacuate all of the floodwaters and prepare the reservoir system for the 2012 runoff season. We've met that goal and have slightly more than the full capacity of the system available."
Fort Peck Reservoir is the only Corps-managed reservoir in Montana. It experienced record high water last year, topping out at an elevation of 2,252.3 feet above sea level, exceeding the previous record height of 2,251.6 feet in 1975.
The dam hit a record discharge rate of 65,900 cfs in June, almost twice the previous record discharge of 35,400 cfs that was also set in 1975.
Since last year's high, the lake's elevation has dropped 18 feet. During February, dam releases averaged 10,800 cfs. Releases will be decreased to 6,500 cfs this month. The reservoir is expected to end March at 2,235.6 feet.
The Corps said normal runoff should allow Fort Peck to rise steadily during the forage fish spawn from early April through mid-June. If runoff is below normal, the Corps will cut releases to raise the water level at Fort Peck and Oahe reservoirs.
The mild winter allowed the Corps to make higher than normal releases throughout the winter.
Mountain snowpack above Fort Peck is currently below normal at 93 percent of average. In the reach between Fort Peck and Garrison, mountain snowpack is tracking at 104 percent of average. This time last year, mountain snowpack was 110 and 107 percent of normal in the respective reaches. Traditionally, 79 percent of the peak mountain snowpack accumulation occurs by March 1.
"Based on what we're seeing today, runoff from the plains and mountain snowpack is expected to be near normal this year, however conditions can change dramatically as they did last spring" Farhat said. "The most important thing for people living along the river to be aware of is the potential for rainfall-driven flood events."
The spring pulses from Gavins Point Dam in March and May for the benefit of the endangered pallid sturgeon are not planned this year due in part to last year's extensive flooding.