In late July 2011, Brigadier General John McMahon, (who oversees the entire Missouri River) decided not to lower the Missouri River reservoirs below the traditional base level of 56.8 million acre feet (MAF) at the start of next year’s runoff season. That base level only frees up 22% of the reservoir system’s storage capacity. In 2011, the Army began the runoff season at that level. We now know that level did not provide enough storage space to capture this year’s flood.
For months, McMahon insisted on maintaining the status quo in the operation of the reservoirs. He likely held firm to this position because he had the backing of the majority of the basin’s senators and other government representatives. Those officials almost certainly recognized that a lower reservoir system base level threatened the monetary benefits of the Army’s hydraulic system. Less water behind the big dams in 2012 would mean fewer financial benefits derived from hydropower generation, Missouri and Mississippi River navigation, reservoir recreation, and the apportionment of water to downstream municipalities and power plants. Continue Reading »