Inland Northwest Mountain Snow Levels
by Associated Press
LOOKOUT PASS, Idaho -- People who study water content in snow say the Columbia River Basin snowpack surpassed the 30-year average after several drought years.
Avista Utilities employees Patrick Maher and Steve Esch spent the day Friday measuring snow depths in the Coeur d'Alene Mountains, part of a network of people fanning out across the Columbia basin to record data by April 1, when high-elevation snowpacks typically hit their peak.
"We might get more snow beyond that, but it doesn't add to the big picture," said Scott Pattee, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon, Wash. "The rest is lost to evaporation."
Across the entire Columbia Basin, this year is shaping up to fit the 30-year average, Pattee told The Spokesman-Review in a story Sunday. That's significant, because the region hasn't had a normal year for several years.
In the Pacific Northwest, mountain snow runoff waters crops; generates power; flushes juvenile salmon out to the ocean; and makes whitewater rafting trips possible.
How the water year shapes up is "a huge, economic consideration" for the region, Pattee said. The Natural Resource Conservation Service publishes the data.
At a remote monitoring spot high in the Coeur dAlene Mountains, the snow was 3 feet deeper than the 30-year average before storms hit and dumped more snow Friday and Saturday. Water content in the snow was 124 percent of normal.
Avista Utilities gets about 40 percent of its electricity from dams. The companys employees check several of the 18 monitoring sites in the Spokane River basin.
Maher and Esch drove to an area just east of Lookout Pass, then used snowmobiles and snowshoes to reach a monitoring site at Roland Summit. En route to the 5,120-foot ridge, the guides snowmobiles got stuck in loose powder.
"Thats unusual for this time of year," said Esch, a senior operations engineer.
Even though they made the trip before Fridays storm, 18 inches of fresh snow had blanketed Roland Summit since the site was last checked on March 1.
In recent drought years, only a 6-inch crust of snow remained at that site by April 1. This year, Maher and Esch recorded 9 feet of snow. The metal sign marking the monitoring site was nearly buried.
Roland Summits a good gauge for Avista, because it marks the boundary of the Coeur dAlene and Clark Fork watersheds, said Maher, a senior hydro operations engineer. The company operates dams in both basins.
In the Spokane River, the water supply forecast is 126 percent of normal this year. For the Columbia River, measured at The Dalles Dam, the forecast is 103 percent of normal.
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