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Water levels this year at Sacheen should be at its lowest . The snowpack for Pend Oreille Co is 65% of average this year, among the lowest in 20 years, last year was 78% of average. Good news for lake level ( no flooding) bad news for fire danger this summer.

Snowpack is below normal for Pend Oreille River drainage

NEWPORT – Although this past week’s weather was wet, snowpack levels for the Pend Oreille River drainage remain well below normal, at 65 percent of average. Mountain snowpack levels typically reach their peak moisture content by early April.

Snowpack effectively serves as a “battery,” storing some of the dams’ power source for use in the summer and fall. Current snowpack conditions are among the lowest in the past 20 years.

Water for the Pend Oreille River comes from snow in the mountains of Montana, including the Upper and Lower Clark Fork and the Flathead basins. At 56 percent of average, the Lower Clark Fork River drainage is at near record lows. By comparison, the snowpack levels for Avista Corp., in Spokane are currently at 53 percent of average, which, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture map, puts the Spokane drainage among the worst in the region for projected stream flow.

“It’s too early to know how this year’s snowpack will affect power generation at Box Canyon Dam,” said Terry Borden, manager of hydro production for the Pend Oreille Public Utility District (PUD). “It all depends on how fast the snow melts in the mountains, and how wet the spring and summer are.”

“We’re unique in that a low water year may help in generation,” PUD power supply manager Sandy Hunt said.

For the next four years, during the turbine/generator upgrade project at Box Canyon, one turbine will be off-line for each year. Under normal conditions, when all four turbine/generators are operational, Box Canyon is able to generate without having to spill water up to 28,800 cubic feet per second (cfs). With one unit off-line, the dam would have to spill at flows of about 21,600 cfs.

The current stream flow forecast is for an average flow of 11,513 cfs in April, with a high flow forecast of 41,665 cfs in late May/early June. Comparatively, the peak stream flow last year was 74,955 cfs in June.

The first new turbine is behind schedule for installation. It was supposed to be up and running by mid-March, but the latest production has completion in early June. The PUD has a plan for delaying work should extremely high river flows begin. The PUD hopes to run the new unit for a while before beginning to dismantle the second unit.

The warm, dry winter is also expected to hurt power supplies at Seattle City Light’s Boundary Dam downstream.

“We’ll have enough power to meet all our customers’ needs, but much less to sell to other utilities, which is an important source of revenue for City Light,” superintendent Jorge Carrasco said in a news release last month.

City Light is expecting a 50 percent reduction in revenue from surplus energy sales in 2010. The utility will be cutting spending to help offset those losses, which will mean reductions in some customer services. The Seattle City Council is considering a rate stabilization fund for City Light that is designed to protect the utility and its customers from the uncertainty of winter snowfalls and wholesale energy prices.

Seattle City Light is the ninth largest public electric utility in the United States. It has the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing power to nearly 1 million Seattle area residents.

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