For the second time in a year, the Lake of the Ozarks saw historic flooding, and now some Lake area property owners are questioning how Bagnell Dam is being managed.

For the second time in a year, the Lake of the Ozarks saw historic flooding, and now some Lake area property owners are questioning how Bagnell Dam is being managed.
Social media, e-mail and the phone lines have blown up the last few days as Lake-area residents and visitors share their opinions on the second major flood of 2015 and how Ameren Missouri reacted to the deluge of rain and torrents of runoff into the lake.
While a few comments have supported Ameren, the majority have been critical of the utility company that built Bagnell and are licensed to operate the hydroelectric facility.
“The flooding is twice as bad as July,” said Mark Hynes, who owns a house on the 38 mile marker. “Whoever regulates the water level dropped the ball.”
Debbie Commerford is another lakefront property owner who is angry over Ameren’s handling of dam operations prior to the heavy rains. With the forecast for the megastorm made a week or more in advance, she was angry at what she perceived to be a lack of preparation by engineers in charge of the dam, questioning why more water wasn’t released prior to the rainfall.
Commerford was fired up on behalf of her family and property owners around the lake. She vented her frustration with the utility company and their lack of accountability to the Lake Sun in a phone call and online.
Her statements echoed many calls to the Lake Sun office and comments on the Lake Sun's Facebook page at LakeNewsOnline.
In response to an inquiry from the Lake Sun, an Ameren Missouri spokesperson in St. Louis addressed some of the basic questions as a starter to examining what can be a complex operation.
Ameren Missouri Communications Supervisor Lori Light said Ameren responded in accordance and in compliance with its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license.
Four factors play a role in the opening and closing of the floodgates, all 12 of which were opened Saturday before the rains began, she said. These factors include weather, Truman Lake levels and Missouri River levels in addition to Lake of the Ozarks levels.
This process could be described as a balancing act between the interests of all of these entities.
Light stated that engineers had been discharging ahead of the storm.
“Because of high discharges from Truman Dam since Thanksgiving, Ameren Missouri increased discharge on Nov. 28 and discharged more than 20,000 cfs on most days after that. Ameren increased flow to about 30,000 on Dec. 21,” she said.
Responding to public comments that Ameren waited too long to open the floodgates, Light said the company responded in accordance with its federal license and opened floodgates earlier than required in anticipation of unusually high rainfalls.
The floodgates were opened Saturday, Dec. 26, according to Light, even though the Lake was six inches below flood pool of 660, Light said. The discharge of 105,000 cfs at the height of the flooding is far below the record 220,000 cfs set in 1943 before Truman Dam was built.
And yet, the damage to homes, docks, boat lifts and other personal property above and below the dam was widespread, especially hard to take so soon after flooding this summer.
Marc Buis, who owns Pointe Oasis Marina and a lakefront home, told the Lake Sun more could have and should have been done sooner to prevent the millions of dollars worth of damage from both flooding events.
“Why didn’t they start a week earlier knowing the upcoming forecast? Buis wondered. “Totally preventable and totally their fault, and now we pay for it.”
Some of it can also be explained by highly unusual weather for December. Over a 48-hour period, the Lake area recorded at least 7.63 inches of rain. That, coupled with heavy rainfall elsewhere in the Osage Basin, dumped millions of gallons of water into a nearly full-pool Lake of the Ozarks, which was at a level in accordance with the guide curve regulating levels throughout the year that is part of Ameren Missouri’s license for the plant with FERC.
As a result, the Lake reached a near-record 663.83 feet above sea level Monday afternoon before cresting about 9 p.m. Monday. That places the late-December flood as the fifth highest Lake level since Bagnell Dam was built in the 1930s.
Before Ameren Missouri’s public relations office in St. Louis took over communications on the flooding, Ameren consulting engineer Alan Sullivan said on Sunday that the discharge of the dam is a complex formula based on inflow as agreed to in the FERC license. He had been up since at least midnight calculating and recalculating discharge based on inflow numbers coming in.
Steve Kahrs is owner of the well-known Osage Catfisheries who also owns property both above and below the dam. From a longtime perspective on operations at the dam and ownership on both sides, he offered a nuanced view of the issue, but ultimately said more needed to be done sooner by operators.
“I can tell you faster, bolder and more decisive actions early would have made a huge difference in our situation and many others,” Kahrs wrote to the Lake Sun. “If they would have taken a gulp out of the Lake on Friday what difference would it have made?”
Ameren acknowledged reports of damage to docks and property both on the Lake and on the Osage River downstream and urged property owners to take precautionary measures for the next several days as floodwaters subsided and repairs are made.
In addition to questioning Ameren Missouri, Kahrs pointed a finger at the Army Corps of Engineers operating Truman Dam.
In a conversation with Ameren officials days prior to the storm, Kahrs said he was told that Ameren’s computer models along with the National Weather Service predicted a 100,000 CFS inflow just into the Lake basin alone in the coming days not to mention the 30,000 CFS that the Corps was discharging from Truman for power generation.
“In this same conversation it was mentioned that Ameren management had to strongly request for the Corps to shut off in anticipation of this possible huge inflow,” said Kahrs. “Long story short, the Corps did not shut off until Saturday, Dec. 26, in the afternoon. (It takes six hours for this flow to drift down). By this time, Ameren was behind an eight ball and not moving fast enough to get rid of the water coming in and being forecast to fall, in our opinion.
Widespread rains when the lake was sitting at 659.2 Saturday morning made for a bad combination, and the rain was only getting worse.
When floodgates “finally opened” around 5 p.m., it was only with a total discharge of approximately 46,000 CFS. The response appeared to continue to lag behind from there.
“Ameren only made larger adjustments up in flow over the spillways from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sunday the 27th to 71,000 CFS.  Even at this they were losing ground quickly by markers we had on our above-dam lakefront property,” he said.
Then around 7 p.m. Monday, Ameren was releasing 104,000 CFS, but it was “too late”.
While Kahrs acknowledged the inherent risk of owning property on a body of water. He and his family have taken significant hits over the years as a result of Mother Nature.
“Never have we held or blamed UE/Ameren, again accepting the loss no matter how hard it was. Like most farmers, we don’t know anything else and just pull up our bootstraps and move on. However, this time around it is a little harder to swallow with all the information listed above and so much more. No one can predict a rain event like this but just wonder if some more proactive thinking by Ameren and the Corps might have saved so many of us from the damage we have suffered above and below the dam. Even Ameren’s own ‘plan’ calls for the Lake to be drawn down to 654 by Feb. 15, 2016,” said Kahrs.
He added, “Ameren has to remember that the Lake was built not only for power generation but flood control above and below the dam. Both the Corps and Ameren have been guilty far too often of holding water too long and in dangerous situations in order to make a dollar and this one cost many of us.”
Kahrs expressed these opinions in a letter to the editor. Check out our opinion section to read the letter in its entirety.
The Lake Sun plans to follow up on these issues not just with Ameren Missouri but also with FERC for a detailed explanation of the decision-making process at the dam in these types of events.