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Power generated from Missouri River falls far below average

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Electric power generation from the Missouri River’s six upstream dams fell far below average in 2013, as water was kept in reservoirs to make up for a dry 2012, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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The Corps, which manages dams and reservoirs along the 2,341-mile river, said energy production from the dams in the Dakotas, Montana and Nebraska totaled 7.6 billion kilowatts of electricity last year, down from 10.4 billion kilowatts in 2012.

The plants have generated an average of 9.4 billion kilowatt hours of electricity since 1967, including a high of 14.6 billion kilowatts in 1997, said Mike Swenson, a corps engineer in Omaha, Neb.

The Western Area Power Administration, which buys and sells power from 55 hydropower plants around the nation, says the six Missouri River dams are WAPA’s second-largest producer of energy.

Randy Wilkerson, a WAPA spokesman in Lakewood, Colo., said the shortfall in electricity production from hydropower meant WAPA had to get energy from other, more expensive sources. The agency spent about $100 million to purchase power in the open market to help make up the shortfall, he said.

WAPA has spent more than $1.5 billion since 2000 to fulfill contracts due to shallow river levels caused by drought.

“It’s not unusual,” Wilkerson said of the shortfall in energy production last year.

Oahe Dam near Pierre, which holds Lake Oahe in the Dakotas, and Garrison Dam, which creates Lake Sakakawea in western North Dakota, are typically the biggest power producers in the Missouri River system.

Oahe Dam generated 1.9 billion kilowatt hours last year, below the long-term average of 2.6 billion kilowatt hours, data show. The dam recorded a low of 1.1 billion kilowatt hours in 2007.