Drought Hurts River

Drought conditions are causing the Missouri River to run dry, and officials worry that the poor outlook could continue for a while.  This was the condition at the Washington Riverfront boat docks Sunday, Dec. 16.     Missourian Photo.

The Missouri River stage in Washington is on target to possibly set a new record low, according to the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

The river stage on Tuesday morning was minus 0.43, which is the lowest it has been since 2006, according to Mark Fuchs, service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis.

This is a very low stage, according to the agency, and forecasts show that it will be at minus 0.8 by early Saturday.

Fuchs said he would not be surprised if a new record was set due to the severe drought.

States such as Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa that have tributaries flowing into the Missouri River are also experiencing significant drought, he said.

Spring snow melt from  South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska  could bring the river level back up, he said. But early snowfall totals have not been encouraging, he said.

“What we really need is rainfall that produces runoff,” he said.

Fuchs said this is the time of the year when the river typically drops to low levels, noting that half of the top 14 low-level records in Washington were set in January.

This time of year brings low river levels because the water from the Missouri and its tributaries freezes and reduces flows, Fuchs said.

Low water levels  in the Missouri can present problems with power plants, such as the Ameren plant in  Labadie, Fuchs said. He said such plants use water-intake systems for cooling.

But he said there is not much commercial navigation on the Missouri River that would be impacted.

Vehicles Surface

Washington Emergency Management Director Bill Halmich said when the river gets this low, stolen vehicles that have been dumped in the water can start appearing.

One of the reasons for the low river stage is the fact that the Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota is not releasing water because the water is needed in that part of the country, Halmich added. Some water will be released, it was reported Tuesday.

The low river level makes it hard to put a boat in the water, Halmich said.

The appearance of the river in Washington can be misleading since there is a narrow channel, Halmich said. But in areas such as New Haven the sand bottom of the river is visible, Halmich noted.

Residents are cautioned that if they take a boat on the river they could get stuck on the bottom, he said.

“It’s a matter of understanding the river and the low water conditions,” Halmich said.

It’s hard to say if a new record low will be set in Washington, Halmich said.