Low river levels cutting into power production

Low river levels cutting into power production

SPOKANE, Wash. - The river that put the City of Spokane on the map is going to look like a creek many places this summer. Record low flows have already shut down the area's white water rafting season and now will cut into power production and stress fish populations.

Most people don't know this but after it gets dark, Avista reduces the amount of the water flowing over a spillway and redirects into the Lower Falls turbine so it can make more electricity. Keeping these crowd-pleasing aesthetic flows going will become even more difficult this summer as Avista struggles with the worst spring runoff in a century.

Right now flows in the Spokane River are less than 10 percent of what they should be for this time of year and expected to drop even further. Avista plans to discharge at least 500 cubic feet of water from the Post Falls Dam the rest of the summer but maintaining those flows won't be easy.

"This is the lowest they've been in over a hundred years or the lowest since we've been recording flows. We're going to see flows that we typically see in late summer at the beginning of the summer this year," Speed Fitzhugh with Avista Corp. said.

Those low flows here on the Spokane River have cut power production in half although Avista knew this poor spring runoff was coming and have been ready to make supplemental electricity.

The City of Spokane says it will have to buy more power on the open market to pump drinking water out of the aquifer but expects to make that money back as residents use more water on their lawns and gardens.

Fortunately, those recording-breaking low flows are being offset by a little help from the Spokane aquifer. Just west of the Sullivan Road bridge the aquifer pours into the river. Between Post Falls and Spokane, those leaks add another 350 cubic feet of water every second for both fish and people downstream.

"There's places where the water contributes water to the river and places where the river contributes water to the aquifer so these are all interconnected. it's one big water system in our area," Marlene Feist with the City of Spokane said.

Because of this the city is keeping a close eye on the aquifer. Hydrologists say it can withstand a one year drought, but it's never too early to start conserving it.

"We really do want to encourage people to think about their watering this summer, to take steps to reduce their watering," Feist said. "We don't want people to water during the hot part of the day. We'd prefer them to water in the morning or in the early evening."