Keeping track of the Missouri River water levels

Over the last few days you’ve heard us talk a lot about river levels along the Missouri, as releases from Garrison Dam begin to threaten flood stage. The United State Geological Survey is a part of the team that helps manage river levels, by collecting data.KX News is Putting North Dakota First and discovering why gaging these river levels is such an important task.

“…about 200 feet from the edge. We’re at a depth of 20 feet,” said USGS hydrologist Brent Hanson.

While these numbers may not mean much to the average person, it’s crucial to organizations like the Army Corps of Engineers.

USGS hydrologist Joel Galloway added, “It helps them when they’re trying to manage the releases out of the dam to understand what those flows are doing. It helps the National Weather Service with their flood forecasting and issuing flood alerts or flood warnings as well.”

By Saturday releases from the Garrison Dam will be at 60 cubic feet per second. The US Geological Survey is checking river levels on this gage near Bismarck trying to keep the team of experts who monitor the Missouri ahead of what’s happening. This team knows the Missouri better than anyone.

“It’s kind of difficult to say how high the stage will come because as the river comes up, the channel also changes,” said Galloway.

For many residents in the Bismarck-Mandan area, the worry is tough to put away. And they wonder, will it actually flood. This group says its not likely.

Hanson said, “Forecasts are showing that there’s not going to be nearly as much volume as 2011 required to pass through this channel.”

Here’s a little comparison for you. This marker shows flood levels in 1957 – the stage was at over 27 feet. 2011’s peak was at 19. And as of right now, the Missouri sits at a little over 12 feet. 

“That’s one of the importance of making these measurements. So that we can keep an eye on whats going on as the river does rise,” said Galloway.

While they only collect data out on the river about once a week, that could increase depending on requests from the corps.

Hanson added that factors like last summer’s drought and changes to tributaries have set us apart from 2011’s flood.

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