Let's get ready to hit the water

Low runoff signals jumpstart on water recreation season

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The Spokane River flows through the gates of the Post Falls dam on Friday. Forecasts predict low stream flow due to above-normal temperatures and low snow pack numbers.

POST FALLS - Mother Nature is telling us there will be an earlier-than-usual start to the water recreation season.

Area stream flows are forecast to be near record lows, according to a report released this week by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"Above-normal summer temperatures are expected, and the meager mountain snow that remains will not sustain flows in most of Idaho's streams for long," the report states. "Pull out your hiking shoes, fishing poles, bikes and boats and get ready to take advantage of Idaho's many outdoor recreational opportunities a little early this year."

Avista Utilities, which maintains summer water levels of Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Spokane River with its Post Falls dam, could start to close the structure's gates about a month early this year in May due to low amounts of runoff, said Casey Fielder, a company spokeswoman.

"Because of the low snowpack and how much runoff we've already seen, the summer lake level could come a month early," she said. "But it's still based on the weather."

Dave Fair, Post Falls parks and recreation director, said the city's boat launch at Q'emiln Park may open sooner than normal.

"If that date (mid-May to early June) holds true, it will be one of the earliest times to open and that will be good for the boaters," Fair said "The opening of the launch is simply a reflection of the snowpack and water coming into our system, so an early opening is an indication of low water flows."

Avista's dam gates will be re-opened after Labor Day as they usually are each year to reach aesthetic stream flows downstream in Spokane, Fielder said.

"The goal is to hit the drawdown target by the end of September," she said.

The stream flow forecast for the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene is predicted to be a near-record 37 percent of normal, according to the report.

But Jim Fredericks, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said it's still too early to be concerned from a fisheries standpoint.

"It's not a pretty picture, but there's no reason to hit the panic button," he said. "We won't see rivers dry up to a trickle. We'll likely hit the base flows a lot sooner than we normally would. We'll see low conditions and warm water temperatures, but there's groundwater upwellings that provide cold water refuges for the fish to go to."

Fredericks said he expects area lakes, including Hayden, to be lower than usual, but nothing major such as in the 3- to 4-foot range.

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