Although the Kansas City District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would allow increased releases beyond what’s authorized in its operating manual from Kansas River Basin reservoirs on Wednesday, Tuttle Creek is actually stepping down its release rates.
The approval allows the water release rate near Waverly, Missouri, on the river to increase from 90,000 to 140,000 cubic feet per second. The Kansas City District said this change was necessary as the 90,000 cfs rate would not allow for releases from the lower 50% of flood control storage in the Kansas Basin until November or December.
Retaining the flood storage in these reservoirs into the next flood year presents an “unacceptable risk” to downstream life and property below the lower Kansas River reservoirs, the district said.
Officials estimate it could take about three months for district lakes and reservoirs to drop to their normal pool levels.
However, Brian McNulty, operation project manager for the Corp of Engineers at Tuttle Creek Lake, said because the water level and the rate of release along the Missouri River is so high, the reservoir will reduce its release rate until conditions improve.
“The Missouri River’s still above 140,000 (cubic feet per second),” McNulty said. “The top of our Phase 1 pool is in the 1,114.4 (feet above sea level) range, so we’ll be releasing a lower amount over the weekend, and if and when the Missouri River continues to drop, our releases will go back up.”
The Corps has phases based on lake level that indicate how much water can be released from the dam. Tuttle Creek Lake is currently at phase 2 level, but approaching phase 1, which indicates smaller releases.
The level of the lake as of noon Friday is 1,114.79 feet above sea level, and the outflow is 12,000 cubic feet per second. Three-day forecasts project the outflow to slow to 8,000 cubic feet per second over the weekend.
McNulty said Tuttle Creek Lake is one of the least filled area reservoirs at the moment, so Clinton and Perry Lakes are taking priority for water releases.
“All four of the big lakes in the Kansas Basin have had 50% or more of their flood pool filled,” McNulty said. “The priority for releases is based on what percentage of the flood pool is filled, and right now, we’ve got the least amount filled. … (Clinton and Perry) actually ramped up their releases earlier this week. Once their pools get down lower and the Missouri River continues to drop, that’ll make space for us.”
McNulty said he doesn’t foresee Tuttle Creek releasing more than 16,000 cfs, at least in the next month or so, because the water downstream will consistently be running high.
Officials said rain events may prolong the drawdown of the reservoirs, but McNulty said they are confident they will be able to get the lake levels down before the winter freeze.
“Rain, especially in the basin downstream, raises the Missouri River,” he said. “That deviation still leaves the Missouri River slightly above flood stage. So any rain downstream of us, we’re going to probably shut off releases at the Kansas Basin lakes pretty quickly just until that rain passes through the system, and we have space downstream to continue the releases.”
The Kansas City District cautions the public to remain vigilant as higher river levels will persist during the drawdown. It anticipates flow along the Kansas River to generally remain between 20,000 to 30,000 cfs, and running 140,000 cfs through the Waverly, Missouri, keeps the water about two feet above flood stage.
McNulty also warned people who are boating to be mindful of where they travel on the lake as some of the stored water at the lake is covering private land.
Most of those areas are above the Kansas Highway 16 bridge near Randolph, or the northern end of Riley and Pottawatomie counties and the southern end of Marshall County.
“Any boating in those areas we don’t own the property for would be considered trespassing,” he said. “Just because something’s flooded doesn’t mean a duck hunter or fisherman or a recreational boater can go into those areas and boat.”