June runoff in the Upper Missouri River Basin was only 52% of average this year, prompting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement water conservation measures on the dams it manages along the stream.
Based on its forecasting, runoff for the year may be only 60% of average, which would make it the 10th driest year in the basin since 1898.
To conserve water, the Corps announced it would cut flows meant to support barge traffic by 1,500 cubic feet per second out of Gavins Point Dam on the South Dakota-Nebraska border. Gavins Point is the most downstream dam on the Missouri River.
The changes come as the basin saw runoff peak several weeks earlier than normal. Above Fort Peck the snowpack hit only 86% of average in late March.
Drought conditions throughout the basin worsened in June, complicating the problem. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center, approximately 74% of the Missouri River Basin is currently experiencing some form of abnormally dry or drought conditions, an increase of 9% since the end of May. The seasonal drought outlook, which extends through the end of September, shows drought conditions will persist or expand across the upper basin.
Meanwhile, parts of the lower basin have received heavy rainfall.
Less runoff and drought means Fort Peck Reservoir will continue to drop from an already low elevation of 2,232.5 feet to 2,231.3 feet at the end of July. The low water prompted the Crooked Creek Marina, located at the west end of the lake, to close for the season on July 11. Despite the low water, dam releases will remain at 9,500 cfs through August.