Fort Randall Dam

Fort Randall Dam began operating in 1953 as a key part of a system of six large federal dam and reservoir projects that reduce flood risks for the populations and urban and agricultural properties downstream along the mainstem Missouri River. The second-most downstream of the mainstem projects, Fort Randall stretching across the Upper Missouri River in southern South Dakota. When not operating to reduce flood impacts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages this mainstem system of dams and reservoirs to balance hydropower generation, water supply, water quality, irrigation, fish and wildlife conservation, navigation, and recreation benefits.

Slide show

The River Basin Balancer Game offers insight into an inland waterway and a system of reservoirs, which are operated with a goal for serving each of the benefits, flood control, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, water supply, recreation, fish and wildlife, and water quality, for which many USACE reservoirs are authorized and constructed. Users can take charge of river operations and experience the unique challenges presented when managing reservoir operations in a variety of weather conditions across a geographically diverse basin.

Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! Prevent invasive species Water Safety Reserve a campsite at USACE campgrounds at Recreation.gov Purchase Navigation and Boating Maps from the Jefferson National Parks Association

Fort Randall Dam News

Corps closes visitor centers, suspends tours
3/18/2020
Due to health and safety precautions regarding COVID-19 (coronavirus), all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Omaha District Visitor Centers will be closed and all public group tours and events and have...
Draft EA for bank stabilization project at Lake Sharpe, SD available for public comment
8/31/2018
A draft environmental assessment for a proposal to protect cultural sites from bank erosion within the Fort George Historic District at Lake Sharpe in Stanley County, South Dakota is currently...
Draft EA for surplus water use at Lake Francis Case, SD available for public comment
6/29/2018
A draft environmental assessment for a surplus water request at Lake Francis Case in South Dakota is currently available for public review. The draft EA evaluates the use of surplus water and the...

Description

Location: Near Pickstown, S.D., River Mile 880.0

Lake Francis Case and Fort Randall Dam are located within the rolling plain of the Missouri Plateau, bordered by rugged bluffs, broken by a complex of eroded canyons and ravines, and has become one of the most popular recreation spots in the Great Plains. Lake Francis Case is 107 miles long, with 540 miles of shoreline.

The dam, just north of the state’s border with Nebraska, consists of an earthen embankment, a powerhouse, four outlet tunnels for releasing stored water, and 21 gates on a concrete-lined spillway on its left bank. During normal operations, USACE releases water through the powerhouse to generate power and balance reservoir levels for other uses. As operations shift to reducing flood risks during periods of high runoff, water also is released through the outlet tunnels and, if needed, USACE dam operators can releases more water through the spillway gates.

This graphic illustrates the how the water storage capacity of the six upper Missouri River dams compares among that of other USACE reservoirs in the continental United States
Since its completion in the 1950s, Fort Randall Dam has significantly reduced flood risks to people and property across downstream in the Missouri River watershed. Dam operators manage river flow with 21 spillway gates (left) to help reduce downstream flood impacts. Each gate measures 40 feet by 29 feet.

Operating for many benefits

Fort Randall Dam and Lake Francis Case provide many benefits to the local and regional public and to the nation. These include reducing the loss of life and property damage from floods, producing hydropower, and providing water for municipal and industrial uses. The storage and release of water also benefits recreation, irrigation, water quality, fish and wildlife, and commercial navigation. The dam can generate 320,000 average kilowatt hours a year.

The public lands and waters of also provide a wide variety of recreational activities, such as fishing, boating, and camping. USACE and several partners (federal, tribal, state, county, and city) operate campgrounds, parks, and marinas on the lake.

Recreation

Lake Francis Case attracts more than 1 million visitors each year to its shores. Recreation opportunities include camping, fishing, hunting, boating, sailing, swimming, skiing, bird-watching, and photography.

Campgrounds managed by the State of South Dakota are located above and below Fort Randall Dam. Amenities include electricity, potable water, modern bathrooms, playground equipment, trailer dump stations and boat ramps. A select few campgrounds also have camping cabins available.

Additional information about nearby activities, camping, day use, and reservations are available here.

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From Yankton: North on Hwy 81, west on Hwy 46

12 miles west of Wagner, S.D., on Highway 46 or 25 miles northeast of Spencer, Neb. on U.S. Highway 281.

Great year-round fishing opportunities attract thousands of anglers to the lake.

Fishing is a very popular activity on Lake Francis Case. Walleye is the primary sport fish although bass, crappie, pike and catfish are also fished on the lake.

The Fort Randall Visitor Center is located on the western edge of Pickstown, S.D. along U.S. Highway 281 and 18. The visitor center provides a spectacular view of Lake Francis Case, Fort Randall Dam and the Missouri River.

Exhibits in the center include information and displays about the authorized project purposes, construction of the dam, local cultural history, paleontological history, early exploration and natural history of the area. The center also houses a freshwater aquarium that displays fish species of the Missouri River.

Stop by the Lewis and Clark wayside exhibits adjacent to the parking area and at Target Hill Overlook (located above the Fort Randall Cemetery on the west end of the dam along U.S. Highway 281 and 18) to learn about the travels of the Lewis and Clark Expedition through this area.

Visitor Center Hours:

Memorial Day to Labor Day:

Weekdays: 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Weekends: 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Off-season Hours: (Closed following Labor Day until Memorial Day)

Tours are available from Memorial Day to Labor Day:

Weekdays: Three times daily at 10:00 a.m.; 1:00 p.m.; and 3:00 p.m.

Weekends & Holidays: Three times daily at 10:00 a.m.; 1:00 p.m.; and 3:00 p.m.

Off-season or groups of 10 or more: Call (605) 487-7845. Tours are by special appointment only

  • Due to increased security, powerhouse tours begin at the Fort Randall Visitor Center.
  • Visitors should arrive 15 minutes prior to the tour
  • Visitors over 18 years old must show a government issued photo ID.
  • Tours last up to one hour.

Reducing Flood Risk

During normal operations, USACE releases up to 44,500 cubic feet of water per second through the powerhouse. One cubic foot of water, or cfs, is equal to 7.5 gallons. The outlet tunnel can release an additional 128,000 cfs. The spillway was designed to additionally release up to 633,000 cfs. For perspective, the largest release of water from Fort Randall Dam as a result of flooding was a combined 160,000 cfs from the powerhouse and spillway in 2011. It is important to understand that the dam is designed to release up to 805,500 cfs when necessary and that dams do not eliminate flood risk.

Water churns downstream after release from Fort Randall Dam’s spillway gates in 2011.
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As part of its Dam Safety Program, Omaha District conducts detailed engineering analyses to ensure its dams are safe and that risks to the public, property, and the environment are minimized to the extent possible. Dam safety standards and practices are continually updated to improve the maintenance and operation of dams to ensure they can safely serve their original purposes. In addition, dam safety engineers across federal and state agencies share information as they learn about the performance of flood risk reduction structures built over many decades. They now use more precise, modern technologies and apply up-to-date science to reduce flood risk more effectively. Fort Randall Dam is operating as designed but in the unlikely case of uncontrolled reservoir releases, significant consequences could impact downstream populations, including numerous urban centers along the Missouri River. 

Omaha District completed several risk reduction actions at Fort Randall Dam after the flooding of 2011.  These include installation of additional instrumentation to enhance foundation monitoring. Numerous repairs have also been made to the spillway to improve its resiliency during future flood events. Visit the National Inventory of Dams to learn more about how dams work and Fort Randall Dam risk assessments.

History

Fort Randall Dam lies within view of the military post from which it takes its name. The name of the original fort honored Colonel Daniel W. Randall, one-time deputy paymaster of the Army. The reservoir behind Fort Randall Dam is named after the former South Dakota Representative and Senator, Francis Higbee Case.

The earliest inhabitants to migrate to the Fort Randall area were probably Archaic Period hunters who arrived in the region about 6,000 B.C.

About 1,500 years later, other groups of Native Americans, moving out of the central plains of Nebraska and western Iowa, settled in permanent villages along the Missouri River. These early farmers were probably ancestors of the historic Mandan and Arikara tribes. Sometime after 1750 A.D., the Mandan and Arikara were pushed upriver into North Dakota by Dakota and Lakota Sioux groups moving into the area from the east.

Using buffalo and horses as their mainstays for survival, the Sioux adapted well to northern plains living. Exploration, fur trading and establishment of military outposts were soon followed by homesteading pioneers.

From the explorations of Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s until the railroads steamed across the plains in the 1880s, trading posts, explorer camps, Indian agencies, military posts and steamboat landings dotted the basin.

The Fort Randall Military Post, built in 1856 on the south side of the river just below the present site of the dam, was established to keep peace on the frontier and served as a major navigation link on the Missouri River.

The Fort Randall Military Post, located on the south side of the river just below the present site of the dam, was named for Colonel Daniel Randall, a career Army officer who also served as Deputy Paymaster General of the Army. The site was selected in 1856 by General William S. Harney, Commander of the Sioux Expedition.

In 1875, soldiers of the Fort conceived the idea of building a combination church and Odd Fellows meeting hall in an effort to stem rampant alcoholism and provide some social, spiritual and intellectual stimulation at the isolated post.

The Fort Randall Post Cemetery is located on the south side of the river just below the present site of the dam. When the fort was officially abandoned in 1892, the 158-grave cemetery was left to the elements.