After months of extraordinarily high releases from upstream dams, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Saturday finally begins cutting back.
The releases have contributed to high levels on the Missouri River along the Nebraska-Iowa border southward. And those high levels have kept water from draining from still-flooded and damaged portions of the valley.
And that’s kept life on hold for some in the bottomland along the river. Some families haven’t been able to get back to their homes, some roads remain damaged or underwater, and in some areas, electricity has yet to be restored.
On Saturday, releases from Gavins Point Dam drop to 75,000 cubic feet per second, down from 80,000 cfs. Gavins Point is the farthest downstream of six massive dams on the upper Missouri. Together, they comprise the largest reservoir system in North America.
By mid-December, releases are expected to be down to 22,000 cubic feet.
That means that releases, which have been running more than 200% above average, will be about 30% above average as winter arrives.
The drop in releases will significantly reduce river levels from Yankton, South Dakota, to the river’s mouth at St. Louis, said Eileen Williamson, spokeswoman for the corps, which manages the dams. How much the river drops and when will depend upon how long it takes the flooded areas and high tributaries to drain into the river.
Many of the Missouri’s tributaries are flowing well above normal and likely will flow above normal for most if not all of the winter, Williamson said.
Ongoing high river levels also have prevented the corps from being able to fully assess damage to some of the fractured levees along the river.
Matt Krajewski, chief of the readiness branch for the Omaha district of the corps, said it could be about mid-December before the corps can fully assess the extent of damage to levees and what it will take to fix them.
The corps has estimated that the cost of repairing levees could exceed $1 billion and take about three years.
The Elkhorn River at the Maple Street bridge is shown under water Monday March 18, 2019.
Floodwaters from the Elkhorn River have gone down and now expose a heavily damaged West Dodge Road.
Floodwaters from the Elkhorn River have started to recede, exposing a heavily damaged West Dodge Road.
The eastbound lanes of West Dodge Road just west of 228th Street show the damage done after floodwaters went down Monday.
A cow makes its way through floodwaters near Columbus, Nebraska, on Friday.
A shell of the Spencer dam is left on the Niobrara River.
Floodwaters engulf a farm near Missouri Valley on Friday.
Floodwaters flow over a railroad bridge near Arlington, Nebraska, on Friday.
Floodwaters make their way into North Bend, Nebraska, on Friday.
The Elkhorn River encroaches on Waterloo on Sunday.
A portion of Highway 92 has been destroyed by floodwaters in western Douglas County.
The Elkhorn River has covered several parts of western Douglas County.
A levee breach is shown on the Platte River near Ashland on Sunday.
Valley is shown inundated by floodwaters on Sunday.
An aerial view of Missouri Valley near the Interstate 29 exit on March 15.
An aerial view of Missouri Valley as floodwaters continue to impact the area on Friday.
A house is surrounded by floodwaters near Waterloo, Nebraska, on Friday.
Floodwaters envelop King Lake, Nebraska, on Friday.
Floodwaters swallow the town of Rogers, Nebraska, on Friday.
Water recedes in the town of Niobrara Neb. The highway showing is Hwy 12 and Hwy 14 Junction.
The Morman bridge on Highway 12 between Niobrara and Niobrara State Park was wiped out by a flood.
A train is stopped on flooded tracks next to the Platte River near Cedar Creek, Nebraska, on Friday.
Highway 75's northbound lane is closed because of flooding near Merritt's Beach RV Park on Friday.
A Nebraska National Guard helicopter flies over areas flooded by the Platte River near Columbus, Nebraska, on Friday.
Highway 81 covered in floodwaters south of Columbus, Nebraska, on Friday.
A Nebraska National Guard helicopter flies over flooded Waterloo on Friday.
Cars drive drive across a flooded Platte River on Highway 50 just north of Louisville.
Water covers a road near Valley, Nebraska.
A westward, aerial view of a flooded Tom Hanafan River's Edge Park on Friday.
An aerial view of Missouri Valley, Iowa, as floodwaters continue to impact the area on Friday.
The National Weather Service in Valley, Nebraska was evacuated due to flooding.
A truck drives through a flooded road near the Platte River.
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