Knowing as much as possible about the water conditions and how to read the information released by the US Army Corps of Engineers will keep you safe, and make your White River experience much more enjoyable. Keep in mind, is it not necessarily about how many generators are running, but how much water is coming down the river!
The water levels on the White River change significantly, often on a daily basis. Wade fishermen MUST BE aware when the water is about to come up. For example, the very lowest water conditions are around 250 -- 500 CFS (cubic feet of water per second), versus all 8 generators at Bull Shoals Dam running at full capacity, which puts out approximately 26,400 CFS of water. Feeder creeks coming into the White also add to this fluctuation of water level, and so fishermen, especially when wading, must be aware of their location on the river and if they are near those confluences.
Remember that the further you travel down the river, the rises and falls of the tail water levels are more subtle.
Often, water levels will trend. These can last a few days or several weeks. When daily fluctuations begin to repeat themselves, you can predict short term (tentatively). Fishermen often watch the levels one-two weeks prior to visiting to see if they can spot a trend.
How the US Army Corps of Engineers works
From 654 feet to 695 feet, the US ACE (Army Corps of Engineers) is in control of the “flood pool”. They will hold back and / or release water, primarily focusing on flood control needs.
While the Corps' primary concern is flood control, they will work with SWPA, Southwest Power Association, to release flood pool water so it is most advantageous to them. Likewise, if the water level was somewhere in the Power Pool, SWPA would not run water that would promote flooding. The Corps and SWPA also work together on smaller water releases in order to keep temperatures and dissolved oxygen to at least minimum acceptable levels.
FYI – When you're reading the Dam Report
Power generation for Bull Shoals Dam is shown in Megawatt Hours. Maximum Power output from the dam is 391 Megawatt Hours. Max water release from all 8 generators is 26,400 CFS (cubic ft/second). This averages out to 3300 CFS max for each generator.
The generators rarely run at 100% max output, but nearly always run in excess of 50% capacity, due to efficiency factors.
If you call the dam generation number of 870-431-5311, the recording may say there are no generators running, BUT there can still be a lot of water coming down the river from a non-power release.
To figure how the water rises:
up to 1 generator - approx speed = 1.75 - 2.0 miles per hour
1 to 2 generators - approx speed = 2.25 - 2.5 miles per hour
3 to 4 generators - approx speed = 2.75 - 3.0 miles per hour
5 to 6 generators - approx speed = 3.25 - 3.5 miles per hour
7 to 8 generators - approx speed = 3.5 - 4.0+ miles per hour
To figure how the water falls out:
Take the distance from the dam in miles, and divide by 2 for approx 85% of the water to fall out.
Generation schedules are updated tentatively Monday through Thursday, with the schedule for the following day updated at 5 p.m. On Friday at approximately 5 p.m., the schedules for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday will be updated. Please be aware that schedules are subject to change to meet power demand. The also ONLY reflect releases through the hydropower facilities and do not include spillway releases ordered by the Corps (during flooding).
DAM GENERATION SCHEDULE