Low Snowpack in the Cascades
by Aaron Ofseyer
EUGENE, Ore. -- The effects of a thin snowpack in the cascades could trickle down into the Willamette Valley this spring, and utility rates could be impacted if conditions don't improve.
Snowpack in the Cascades is well below average, between 50 and 70 percent because a strong El Nino has produced warmer and drier conditions throughout the Pacific Northwest. The dry conditions and low snowpack can have a domino effect.
"Less water to turn the turbines, you're out of luck," said EWEB spokesman Joe Harwood.
Hydroelectric dams are the biggest source of energy in Oregon. Sixty-five percent of EWEB's energy comes from the Bonneville Power Administration's dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. According to hydrologists, streamflows on these rivers are only slightly below normal.
"If it doesn't build up, we could be in serious trouble," said USGS hydrologist Tom Herrett.
Bonneville is forecasting a bad year because of a decline in excess power they can generate. As a result, EWEB says some of this could eventually be passed down to the consumer. But according to hydrologists and utility boards around the state, it's too early to hit the panic button.
According to the Bonneville Power Administration, spring runoff along the Columbia is forecasted to be at its lowest levels since 2001.
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