The Missouri River is an expansive waterway, stretching for over 2,500 miles from its source in Montana to its mouth near St. Louis. Spanning 10 states and forming part of two others’ boundaries, this grand river’s course has become home to numerous dams throughout history.
These structures serve various purposes such as providing irrigation for agriculture, hydroelectricity, and flood control.
In this article, we will uncover facts about the Missouri River dams, including their water levels, reasons for construction, the largest of them all, and how many there are in total.
List of Dams on the Missouri River
The Missouri River is a vital waterway that sustains numerous dams along its path. Beginning with the small-scale flood control projects, such as Gavin’s Point Dam near Yankton, South Dakota, to the mammoth hydroelectric and irrigation structures that transit across the river’s whole length, these dams have played an integral role in maintaining life and commerce in the region.
Here is a brief overview of some key dams in Missouri that are essential to river life.
Fort Peck Dam
This dam is located near Glasgow, Montana, and was constructed between 1933 and 1940.
Fort Randall Dam
Located near Pickstown, South Dakota, Fort Randall is a concrete gravity dam that was built between 1947 and 1953.
Gavins Point Dam
This dam is located on the Missouri-Nebraska border and was built in 1957.
Located near Pierre, South Dakota, Oahe Dam is a concrete gravity dam that was built between 1947 and 1962.
Big Bend Dam
This dam is located near Fort Thompson, South Dakota, and was completed in 1963.
Located near Riverdale, North Dakota, this dam is the tallest in the U.S. and one of the largest earthen dams in the world. It was completed in 1953.
Missouri River Dams Water Levels
The US Army Corps of Engineers have recorded some of the highest water levels ever observed in Missouri River Dams. With an incredibly wet spring season across the Midwest, more than 30 reservoirs are now reaching near-maximum capacity.
This abundance of water is a welcome relief for farmers and other water users who were dealing with serious drought conditions just last year.
However, these higher levels have also caused flooding and an increase in sediment accumulation that dam operators must manage effectively.
Why Are There Dams on the Missouri River
The Missouri River has been transformed by the construction of various dams, allowing for water to be used in multiple ways. Through hydroelectric power plants, towns and cities have access to electricity.
Furthermore, irrigation projects are made possible with the water collected from the dams which enable farmers to thrive through increased crop yields.
The dams also provide a form of flood protection, reducing flooding in the Midwest by slowing down the river’s flow and storing excessive water.
These dams not only provide practical benefits but recreational opportunities as well. Boating, fishing, swimming, and various other water sports can be enjoyed on the reservoirs built by the dams.
Largest Dams on the Missouri River
The Missouri River is home to many of the largest dams in the United States, each with its own unique purpose and history. The Fort Peck Dam, constructed as part of the Pick-Sloan Plan in the 1930s, is renowned for its massive spillway which was designed to handle flows three times greater than were ever seen before in the Missouri River.
Near Pierre, South Dakota stands the Oahe Dam, built in 1948 and used for both hydroelectric power and flood control. It’s also home to one of the largest reservoirs in the US, spanning 200 miles of shoreline.
The Gavins Point Dam, built in 1957 for hydroelectric power and river flow control, is a popular fishing spot. Lastly, the 1954 Garrison Dam controls river levels, produces hydroelectricity, and irrigates much of the region.
How Many Dams Are on the Missouri River and Its Tributaries?
The Missouri River and its myriad tributaries are dotted with an estimated 1,400 dams on the river alone and a total of 2,000 across the entire system.
These diverse constructions have been built for a variety of reasons, ranging from electricity production to irrigation and flood control to navigation. Many of these dams have stood for decades while others have been more recently constructed.
Nevertheless, each of these structures plays an essential role in keeping our rivers safe and vibrant. With advancing technology and a better understanding of river management, the number of dams along the Missouri River is likely to grow even more in the future; steps are being taken to protect it from floods, expand water resources for farming, and produce electricity.
10 Facts About the Missouri River
- The Missouri River is the longest river in North America, stretching 2,341 miles from its source in the Rocky Mountains of Montana to its confluence with the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis, Missouri.
- It is one of only two rivers in the United States that flows north for most of its course – the other being the Red River in Texas.
- The Missouri River is part of a larger river system that includes the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, making it the fourth-longest combined system in the world.
- It was given its name by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their expedition of 1804–1806, after encountering tribes of the Missouri Indians.
- Missouri is home to over 300 species of fish, including paddlefish, sturgeon, and catfish.
- Lewis and Clark’s expedition passed through major cities located along the river, such as St. Louis, Kansas City, and Omaha.
- The Missouri River Basin contains vast amounts of agricultural land – over half of which produces wheat, corn, and soybeans.
- The river has been used for transportation since the mid-1800s when steamboats made their way upriver to reach the growing cities of the American West.
- Missouri River is also a source of hydroelectric power – generating enough electricity to power over 1 million homes each year.
- Conservation efforts have been made to protect the natural beauty and wildlife of the Missouri River, with over 400 miles of it designated as National Wild and Scenic Rivers by Congress in 1976.