LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. — Lake of the Ozarks has dropped to a five-year low, with the water level falling by more than three feet in the past week. The Lake level, as of Monday, Feb. 22, is below 653 feet of elevation; it hasn’t been that low since 2016.
The rapid drop along with the heavy ice accumulation on the Lake has left some docks worse for the wear, and lakefront property owners are wondering what happened.
“Many folks have been asking why the Lake is so low,” acknowledged an Ameren employee at the dam.
He explained two factors have kept the dam running harder than it normally would be this time of year: the increased power demand last week, and a downstream coal plant that was in desperate need of water.
The Need For Electricity
“Osage Plant was required to be utilized very heavily during the extreme cold weather we had last week, to help keep the grid solvent and to prevent rolling blackouts like other utilities experienced,” the dam employee said in Ameren’s Lake Level Report (to hear the recorded report, call 573-365-9205). Some Missourians did experience rolling blackouts last week, as temperatures hit record lows in some areas, and power demands spiked. However, Ameren did not implement those blackouts and the company says that is in part because of Bagnell Dam. The dam is capable of adding 215 megawatts to the grid, and the company had it running at nearly full-blast from Sunday, Feb. 14 through Wednesday, Feb. 17. Then generation was scaled back somewhat, but the dam was still averaging a flow of between 8,000 and 12,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Meanwhile, many of the Lake’s inflows (runoff and creeks) were essentially shut off, as everything froze.
Ice Jam Nearly Shuts Down A Coal Plant
To compound Missouri’s electric dilemma, on Wednesday, Feb. 17, an ice jam developed on the Missouri River upstream of Jefferson City, and that dramatically reduced the water flow downstream, the dam operator said. As a result, Labadie Coal Power Plant, which sits on the Missouri River east of St. Louis, did not have enough water to keep their generators cool. The plant—which has a generation capacity of more than 2,400 megawatts—was in danger of being shut down, which would have taken power off the grid at a time when Ameren needed all the megawatts it could get, to keep customers’ lights—and furnaces—on. Bagnell Dam’s increased flow helped supply water to keep the Labadie plant running, the dam operator said.
As a result of the increased water flow through Bagnell Dam, Lake of the Ozarks dropped by more than three feet last week, reaching a low point of 652.83 (feet of elevation, measured at Bagnell Dam) on Monday, Feb. 22.
That drop, the dam operator acknowledged, took a heavy toll on some docks. “We realize that there has been dock damage on the Lake, and we realize that this can be very frustrating,” he said. “However, maintaining a reliable power system has got to be our highest priority… we are only running what we believe to be absolutely necessary to support the continued operation of Labadie.”
The Lake of the Ozarks water level is determined by Bagnell Dam operators, who respond to inflows from Truman Dam—which flows directly in Lake of the Ozarks—and runoff from weather events. But those operators answer to FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has set a high-water limit, low-water limit, and guide curve that Ameren follows year-round. View the guide curve here: http://apps.ameren.com/HydroElectric/Reports/Osage/GuideCurve.aspx
Ameren uses the Guide Curve as a general guide, but is not required to follow it exactly; however historical data shows the utility generally stays well within the low- and high-water limits (with specific exceptions). View Lake level reports here: http://apps.ameren.com/HydroElectric/Reports/Osage/HeadWaterTailWater.aspx
The high-level limit, often referred to as “full pool,” is 660 feet of elevation. Ameren draws down the Lake level every winter, reaching a low of approximately 654 feet of elevation, in anticipation of spring rains that typically refill the Lake in time for Memorial Day vacationers to arrive.
However, the utility company came into last week’s Arctic chill with plenty of pent-up energy; the Lake’s level was still relatively high for this time of year. As of Feb. 14, the water level was around 657 feet, though the Guide Curve would have the Lake already at its low of 654 feet by mid-February. Those three feet of water spread across the Lake’s 84 square miles helped keep many Missourians warm amid record cold temperatures.
But now, the Lake is below the guide curve, reaching 652.83 on Monday. In March of 2016, the Lake level dropped below 653, after dam operators lowered the water level in anticipation of forecasted rain that never came. They may have been a bit skittish then: less than three months earlier, catastrophic flooding hit Lake of the Ozarks in late-December of 2015. The Lake level then rose to 663.45 feet of elevation, and Ameren opened the floodgates, ultimately reaching a discharge of more than 100,000 cfs.
For now, the dam operator says the Lake’s water level won’t be dropping below 652.5, and the dam’s discharge should continue to diminish as snow melts early this week. Tuesday’s forecast high temperature is 60 degrees under sunny skies.
2016's Low Level:
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2015 Flooding Coverage:
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