Without Rain, 2 Washington Reservoirs Will Be Empty By The Weekend

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Without Rain, 2 PSE Reservoirs Will Be Empty By The Weekend February 22, 2001 By KOMO Staff & News Services

BELLEVUE - Without major precipitation in the next few days, Puget Sound Energy says one of the worst wintertime droughts on record essentially will drain their two northwest Washington reservoirs as early as this weekend.

If that occurs, the utility will be unable to continue supplementing the Skagit River's flows to prevent the drought's impacts on salmon. It will also cause a halt to their ability to generate power from those two facilities.

'Well Is About To Run Dry'

"The situation is going from bad to worse," said Ed Schild, PSE's director of energy production and storage. "Since early in the fall when this drought began to emerge, we've worked with federal, state, and tribal resource agencies to do everything possible to offset the effects of this dry spell."

"Despite all our best efforts, the well is about to run dry."

At the request of state and federal agencies, Puget Sound Energy voluntarily has been releasing stored reservoir water for nearly three months specifically to help maintain a targeted minimum flow in the Skagit River.

That targeted flow of water - about 7,600 cubic feet per second - was collaboratively set by biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Skagit River Cooperative to protect salmon-egg nests and newly hatching salmon.

"Puget Sound Energy has been working with us and other agencies to protect fish as much as possible under the current challenging circumstances," said Donna Darm, acting regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest Region. "We appreciate the company's support, and will continue our coordination to do what we can for our salmon."

PSE's discharge of water from its Lake Shannon and Baker Lake reservoirs has kept the Skagit River's flows well above the mark they'd otherwise have been under natural conditions.

Reservoirs At Lowest Levels In History

The region's exceptionally low rainfall, however, has not been sufficient to replenish the water released from the reservoirs. Meanwhile, the Skagit's free-flowing tributaries, such as the Sauk River, this week are running more than 70 percent below their average February flows.

The Skagit itself, supplemented by reservoir water from PSE and Seattle City Light, is flowing at only about half its normal level.

Without a sudden and significant amount of new precipitation, PSE's two Baker basin reservoirs will, within the next few days, drop to their lowest levels in history, Schild said. "All we'll have left is water that cannot be accessed. There will be no water left to augment the Skagit's flows."

At that point, unless the Skagit receives additional water either from Seattle City Light's Skagit River Project reservoirs or from precipitation, the river's flows will fall to about 4,500 cubic feet per second (cfs). At that flow rate, a substantial amount of riverbed likely will be exposed, posing a potential threat to newly hatched salmon.

Normal Skagit River flows for this time of year are around 14,000 cfs. Barring new precipitation, the Skagit River this month could reach one of the two or three lowest February flow levels in the 75 years that hydrological records have been kept.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 22, 2001


Scant Precipitation Points to Dry Summer 2001 for the Northwest Thursday, February 22, 2001 BY CRAIG WELCH and LYNDA V. MAPES KNIGHT RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

SEATTLE -- Washington state and federal officials are preparing for what some predict could be among the Northwest's driest summers ever.

Farmers may sell their power rather than plant crops. Dry conditions could raise wildfire threats, affecting recreation and taxing state emergency crews. Low river flows might boost the need for alternative fish passages around Columbia River dam systems.

At every turn, it seems, statistics spell trouble. To date, precipitation, even on the wet western side of the state, is barely half of normal. In Eastern Washington, precipitation is below half of normal in some areas. Reservoir systems are 30 percent of normal. Stream flows in all but about a dozen of 103 locations monitored are 25 percent of normal.

Doug McChesney with the state Department of Ecology's water- resources program said yesterday that to change the tide, Washington would need 150 percent of normal precipitation until July. Even then, the type of moisture matters. A warm rain could potentially worsen conditions, loosening snow and quickening runoff. During a legislative hearing last week, Jim Waldo, a lobbyist on water issues for Washington Gov. Gary Locke, made a dire prediction to members of a House committee.

"We are looking at a drought that will probably be as bad or worse as the drought of 1977, which was the worst drought on record," Waldo said.

An emergency committee in coming weeks will gather water statistics, make projections on potential economic impacts and probably recommend that Locke declare a drought. The declaration would allow for faster water transfers and free up about $5 million for drought preparedness. But the declaration also is symbolic, giving the public a clear sign that conservation is vital. Tuesday, Bob Nichols, a policy adviser to Locke, said the situation this year is better and worse.

"In many ways we're better prepared now to react to droughts," he said. "We have better forecasting information, so farmers can make decisions. We've got some tools in place to enable transfers of water."

But farmers, hurt by four years of poor prices, now face higher power costs to pump irrigation water. The price of some fertilizers is being pushed up by higher energy costs, which make the chemicals much more expensive to make. The Bonneville Power Administration is launching a program for at least this season, and perhaps next, under which it would pay farmers not to plant but to sell their power back to the BPA. To cash-starved farmers that could be a better business decision than planting this year. But the BPA program, which is still being worked out, will come too late for many farmers who must decide soon whether to plant their ground.

"If people are not planting a lot of labor-intensive crops, then the field workers may suddenly be unemployed," McChesney said. "If there's fire potential, there may be logging scale-backs. There could be impacts even on things like river rafting. How will these likely play out? We don't know."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 23, 2001.

2 Skagit River dams are running dry, threatening salmon

Friday, February 23, 2001


At the same time that the Pacific Northwest's severe water and power drought continues to worsen, Puget Sound Energy's two Skagit River dams are about to run dry.

The utility's Baker Lake and Shannon Lake dams are expected to run dry about Sunday. The silencing of the turbines that churn an average combined 100 megawatts of electricity power will be deprived from power-hungry people.

But that will be a relatively small inconvenience compared to the potential catastrophe awaiting thousands of primarily chinook salmon fry that rely upon the river water flow to begin their life cycle.

"If we got an inch of rain out there it would buy us a few more days, but those beautiful blue skies continue," PSE spokesman Roger Thompson said.

While water will remain behind the dams, it will fall below the level of the penstock, or pipe opening near the bottom of the reservoir that feeds water by gravity to the turbines, Thompson said.

Puget Sound Energy has been working with state, federal and tribal agencies, and with Seattle City Light -- which has larger dams farther up the Skagit River in the North Cascades -- to try to find a remedy, Thompson said. PSE has been voluntarily releasing stored reservoir water for three months mainly to help maintain the targeted water flow of 7,600 cubic feet per second that authorities say the fish need to survive.

Without rain, "the situation is going from bad to worse," said Ed Schild, PSE's director of energy production and storage.

Unless it receives more water from Seattle City Lights reservoirs, the flows will fall to about 4,500 cubic feet per second, Thompson said. Normal flows for this time of year are 14,000 cubic feet per second, but the Skagit as a whole is flowing at half its normal level, Thompson said.

PSE's dams, however, comprise only a small portion of the utility's average 2,600 megawatts of power. The rest comes from contracts with suppliers. Fortunately for PSE customers, Thompson said, the utility locked up long-term contracts with suppliers before the winter drought, at rates below the sky-high prices now being commanded on the energy market.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 23, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ