LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. — Dammed if you do, dammed if you don't. Ameren is facing the ire of dock owners after dropping the Lake level this week in anticipation of rain that never came. As a result, the Lake of the Ozarks is lower than it’s been in more than six years.

The Lake level dropped below 653 this week. And while the National Weather Service is still calling for a good chance of rain for the Lake area this weekend, what was expected to be a very rainy week turned out to be less soggy than anticipated, and dam operators are getting an earful from some in the community.

The Lake is typically taken down to 654 or the upper 653 range during the annual winter drawdown, in anticipation of spring rains. But this week, Ameren announced it would drop the Lake by a foot, in anticipation of a predicted five to seven inches of rainfall.

Bagnell Dam Operator Warren Witt acknowledges the weather didn’t pan out like the forecast models had predicted. “We got a little bit,” he said, “but nothing like what they were talking about.”

Now the Lake’s water level is dipping into the 652 range—a foot beneath the guide curve, which governs the Lake level. As of 2 p.m. on Friday, March 11, Ameren reported the Lake level was exactly 653 feet, measured at the dam. “This is pretty low for us,” Witt said, noting the Lake level usually doesn’t dip lower than 353.75 during the winter drawdown.

In fact, the Lake has not been this low since before 2010 — the earliest year online records are available.

View hourly updated Lake levels

As a result, Ameren has been getting calls—from dock owners whose structures are sitting on dry ground, boaters who can’t launch their boats because ramps are completely out of the water, and they have even heard from the Lake of the Ozarks Marine Dealers Association.

To compound matters, water discharge is running at about 3,500 cubic feet per second (cfs). Without inflows from Truman Dam—which is currently passing no water—that 3,500 cfs continues to slowly lower the Lake level, but Witt says Ameren’s hands are tied now: that is the minimum flow allowed during spring time, as regulatory agencies require water to continue pouring into the Osage River for the sake of aquatic life and spawning fish.

Ameren is allowed to deviate as much as three feet below the guide curve, though Witt said the company typically tells dock owners to prepare for Lake levels that are in line with the guide: 654 feet, this time of year. Ameren would have to get permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to drop more than three feet beneath the guide curve, and that would only happen in extreme circumstances, Witt said. Even then, the company would be bound by an emergency lower limit of 645 feet.

After the massive flooding that destroyed many Lake homes and damaged countless others on the Lake of the Ozarks in December 2015, many questioned why Ameren had not dropped the Lake level in light of the forecast. At that time, Witt told, “You never make significant moves [in the Lake level] based just on a forecast.” In light of this week’s events, Witt stands by his former statement, emphasizing the word “significant.” He says Ameren will indeed adjust the Lake level at times by as much as a foot and a half in anticipation of rainfall. Dam operators use weather forecasts regularly to guide their decision-making process in making minor adjustments and preparations for weather events. But to avert a flood like December’s, Witt says the Lake would likely have needed to drop by four or five feet before the rain began, and that is never something Ameren would do.

Ameren says over the next couple of weeks it plans to let the Lake level rise a foot or two, as inflows allow, and subject to weather conditions.

Witt concluded, “The real thing that we need right now obviously is some rain.”


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