The Army Corps increases releases from swollen reservoirs in the Mississippi River watershed but delays opening an emergency spillway in Louisiana. Lake Ontario is at a record high as Great Lakes water levels continue to rise as well. A national laboratory reports on hydropower as a key cog in electric grid resilience. FEMA offers planning grants for high-hazard dam repairs. The Lake Erie algae forecast worsens. And lastly, the EPA holds a public meeting on monitoring contaminants in drinking water.
“Runoff into the upper Missouri River above Sioux City has remained high, and unfortunately, the rain continues to fall in the places we don’t need it.” — John Remus, chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division, the Army Corps of Engineers unit that is responsible for six large reservoirs in the upper reaches of the Mississippi River watershed.
By the Numbers
$10 million: Grant funding available for planning, design, and other pre-construction activities for repairing high-hazard dams. Applications are due July 8. (FEMA)
The Mississippi Inland Sea
It seems that’s the case right now, doesn’t it?
Severe flooding continues in the Mississippi River watershed, which drains 40 percent of the land area of the lower 48 states. The National Weather Service displays a map that shows which sections of river are in major flood stage.
Problems begin in the upper Missouri River, a major Mississippi tributary. May runoff for the Missouri River above Sioux City, Iowa, was about 7.5 million acre-feet, more than double the monthly average.
The Mississippi River at St. Louis, just below the confluence with the Missouri, is at its second-highest level on record. The water is expected to be at major flood stage through June 14.
The Arkansas River, another tributary farther downstream, is smashing records and destroying towns and farmland and halting commercial barge traffic. The river crested at Van Buren, Arkansas, near the Oklahoma border, more than 2.5 feet above the previous record.
Levee breaches have been reported in Arkansas, Iowa, and Missouri.
Morganza Spillway Opening Delayed
Because of a change in the river forecast, the Army Corps will open the emergency flood-control structure on June 6. The spillway diverts water from the Mississippi into the Atchafalaya basin in order to protect the levees that guard Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It has been opened only twice (1973, 2011) since it was completed in 1954.
Lake Ontario Sets Record
Water levels in Lake Ontario began the month of June at their highest mark on record.
Like in the Mississippi basin, high water is expected to hang around, peaking in mid-June. Why? There is a lot of water upstream that needs to work its way through the system. Water levels in Lake Erie, which drains into Ontario, are at record high for this time of year. (All that rain is not good for the algae forecast. See below.)
Studies and Reports
Hydropower as Electric Grid Support
Oak Ridge National Laboratory published a technical report on the usefulness of hydropower plants in reviving the electric grid after a widespread blackout.
Hydropower plants have characteristics suitable for “black start” – energizing a power plant without contribution from the electric grid.
The report is part of HydroWIRES, a department initiative to understand how hydropower fits into the nation’s changing energy mix.
On the Radar
Disaster Aid Bill
A $19 billion aid bill did not make it through Congress before the Memorial Day holiday. Lawmakers will try again this week to get the bill to the president’s desk.
Drinking Water Monitoring Meeting
Every few years the EPA requires utilities to monitor several dozen unregulated contaminants in drinking water. The information is useful for understanding the scope of contamination and in identifying chemicals for regulation.
While the fourth round of testing is ongoing, the agency is starting to plan for the fifth. The big questions are which contaminants to monitor and what reporting limits. The EPA said that it plans to include PFAS chemicals in the fifth round. (The third round of sampling tested for six PFAS.)
The agency is holding a public meeting on July 16, in Cincinnati. To attend in person or via webinar, register here.
Lake Erie Algae
The algae forecast worsened last week due to more heavy precipitation in the basin. NOAA researchers expect Lake Erie’s annual harmful algal bloom to be much worse than last year and among the worst since 2002.
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton