Normal water year predicted in North Idaho

Despite lack of recent storms, snowpack holding on

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Despite a lack of snowfall this year, it's shaping up to be a normal water year in North Idaho due to sufficient snowpack in the mountains.

"The bottom line is that the mountains are still in OK shape," said Julie Koeberle of the Idaho Natural Resources Conservation Service. "Conditions are much better than last year."

The Spokane, Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe rivers are forecast at 100 percent of average flows during the summer.

As of this week, North Idaho's snowpack is 92 percent of average and it was 72 percent at this time last year.

"The snow is being preserved in the higher elevations and northerly aspects, so the mountains are holding on to just below average snow water content," Koeberle said.

The Climate Prediction Center is still forecasting above-average precipitation for the rest of February through April.

"The ridge of high pressure that has kept things so dry lately may just be the calm before the storm," Koeberle said.

Avista, which operates a hydroelectric project on the Spokane River at Post Falls, is also expecting near-normal river and lake levels this year for both the Clark Fork and Spokane River basins based on snowpack so far and predicted weather conditions, including precipitation, said Anna Scarlett, company spokesperson.

"We've had a good year in terms of river flows, which benefits our customers because we're able to maximize the generation at our dams to produce clean, low-cost power that we don't have to generate or secure somewhere else," she said.

The early spring runoff in late December and early January increased river and lake levels to higher than normal. Those levels peaked the third week of January.

"We have been able to put the maximum amount of water through our generators at our dams on the Spokane River," she said. "There is enough water that we have been spilling excess water over the spillways consistently for the past six weeks."

The level of Lake Coeur d'Alene on Thursday was 2,124.17 feet, about 3 feet, 10 inches below summer level. The level is expected to continue to drop to between 4 and 5 feet below summer level.

"The water supply picture is decent given the generous soil moisture from fall rains, average reservoir storage and a near-normal snowpack at high elevations," an NRCS report states.

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