LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. — Heavy rains meant high waters earlier this summer at the Lake, and as the floodwaters receded, they brought shoreline debris back into the Lake with them. For a while, the Lake had a murky hue and tiny islands of twigs mingled with other indistinguishable matter could be seen floating across the surface.
Much of that debris was small and soon sank out of sight, but some Lakefront homeowners and boaters found they had bigger problems on their hands, with an assortment of logs in the water that posed serious risks to transoms and propellers, and were generally an annoyance. Some wondered: “Whose job is it to clean all this up?”
For those who would look to Ameren, the utility company that owns the Lake of the Ozarks says it’s not responsible.
Shoreline Management Supervisor Jeff Green said Ameren will typically help remove large debris that causes a navigational concern, but as for the logs and sticks that ultimately wash back up on the shoreline, those are left to homeowners to be gathered and burned.
Green said he was contacted by a few homeowners with complaints of large debris at their dock, and Ameren has handled those on a case-by-case basis. One homeowner found a large log wedged underneath his boat lift: the log had apparently floated in, and as the water receded, the lift snagged on the log, which was pressed into the Lake floor.
Outside of those types of damaging or potentially damaging issues, Green encouraged homeowners to leave the debris if it wasn’t posing a problem, since it would ultimately settle to the Lake floor and create habitats for fish and birds.
As for the dock and seawall permits paid by home and business owner, those do cover shoreline management, but are insufficient to mobilize the massive cleanup effort that would have been required to pluck debris from every cove, Green said. Ameren does host a Shoreline Cleanup in the spring and fall, during which groups from around the Lake are divided into zones and gather trash that has washed up on the shore. In the spring, that helps present a clean Lake for summer visitors; in the fall, it cleans up the inevitable leftovers after the busy season has ended.
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The company caught flak from some who said it should never have allowed the Lake to rise as high as it did: the water level crested at 662.5 feet of elevation, and full pool is considered 660. But while the damage the flooding caused is unfortunate, Green is quick to point out that Ameren’s flooding rights go well above 662.5, and the Lake has been higher than that—though such an incident is rare. In 1986, Green said the Lake level hit 664 feet. The 100-year floodplain around the Lake is, for the most part, at 665; Green said those flooding rights are very protective and very important: “Because we know through the history of the lake… those flooding elevations are very important as it relates to those things that are gonna happen in the future.”
He added, “Folks need to be definitely cognizant that the lake can get higher,” pointing out that Ameren’s Project Boundary is at 662—a number that caused a whirlwind of worry when, several years ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) told Ameren that any structures below 662 needed to be demolished. That included many lakefront homes and businesses. Ameren worked with home and business owners and FERC to come to another solution; but Green said as evidenced by this summer’s high water, people who own structures below 662 “can anticipate that flooding will periodically occur.”
Green had not yet received a full report of damage estimates around the Lake, but he said he knew of several incidents were docks had lifted off their mudpoles and floated across the Lake. Photos from the soggy season show homes and businesses damaged by several feet of water.
However, Green said, it could have been worse. Ameren’s ability to open the Bagnell Dam floodgates while the Army Corps of Engineers closed Truman Dam altogether meant the Lake went down quickly. He says that, plus the temporary lake-wide No-Wake rule helped Lake of the Ozarks “dodge a bullet.”
Green says he doesn’t think Ameren would respond any differently in the future, if presented with a similar situation: he pointed out that location is key when it comes to rainfall making its way into the Lake. “The thing that never ceases to amaze us [is] how much water can come in through local tributaries,” Green said, adding, “Most all of the floodwaters came in through local tributaries that aren’t under the control of any hydro project.” Even without flooding on the Osage River, the Lake of the Ozarks can flood because of all the tributaries that pour into it.
“Mother Nature will sometimes throw things at us,” he said, pointing out that the area received 10 inches of rain in a period of two days. He said Ameren also has to think about “a balancing of the Lake interests as well as downstream interests.”
But what about power generation? Some have wondered whether Ameren waited too long to open the floodgates, since every gallon that flows through them represents a loss of revenue. “We think about generation issues as we’re managing normal flows,” Green said. But when it comes to flood situations, he emphasized that is not a consideration.
Green noted, “The economic engine that we call Lake of the Ozarks is much larger now from a tourism standpoint than it is from a [energy] generation standpoint.”