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Alpine Lakes Wilderness Comment Deadline: May 11

colchuck-lake (USDA-FS)

Colchuck Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness (USDA)

After spending more than three years and a million taxpayer bucks, Chelan County and the Washington Department of Ecology have finally put out an environmental scoping request for the Icicle Work Group’s “Icicle Strategy.”   This document identifies our government’s plan to further dam and drain several lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area for future consumption by Wenatchee Valley developers and irrigators.

Complete details about the impact of the project can be found in the Alpine Lakes Protection Society’s (ALPS) latest newsletter.

People who care about the Alpine Lakes Wilderness –  one of America’s most beautiful and popular wilderness areas – need to speak up.  Comments regarding the scope of the environmental impact statement must be received by May 11, 2016:

  • Mike Kaputa, Director, Chelan Co. Natural Resources Dep’t
  • Via e-mail:  mike.kaputa@co.chelan.wa.us
  • Via snail mail:  411 Washington St., Suite 201, Wenatchee, WA

The SEPA checklist and various descriptions of the Icicle Work Group’s proposal are posted on Chelan County’s website.  Here are a few observations that may guide comments.

The Icicle Work Group is a self-appointed conglomeration of government agencies (federal, state, local, tribal), water resource users (irrigators and municipal water suppliers), and a couple of environmental groups interested in getting contracts to do projects.   The IWG has no members who are advocating to protect the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.*

The IWG’s “guiding principles” establish that whatever comes out of the process must be a “quid pro quo” deal.   Thus, any benefit to the environment will be accomplished only if new water rights are created to fuel development and sprawl in and around the City of Leavenworth, Cashmere, Dryden, etc.   These water rights will extract water from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness: Eightmile, Colchuck, Klonaqua, Nada, Snow, and Square Lakes.  To obtain this water, the cities will have to build dams and other infrastructure, and will inundate Wilderness lands as well as draw down the Wilderness lakes.  You can read the details in the Alpine Lakes Optimization & Automation Study (Table 6, p. 62 provides a handy summary.)

The Icicle Work Group asserts that this plan is environmentally beneficial because it will improve instream flows in Icicle Creek.  This assertion is (largely) false.   There will be minor improvements to streamflow, but most of the water promised to Icicle Creek is interruptible – that is – in water-short years the cities and irrigators will be able to take their full allotments of water regardless of how little is flowing in the creek.  There will not be enough water to protect the endangered steelhead and bull trout that inhabit Icicle Creek.

More analysis of these problems may be found in prior Naiads posts, such as Icicle Instream Illusions, and New Dams and Diversions in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Here’s what the IWG needs to hear:

  • The EIS must consider a Wilderness Protection Alternative.  This alternative would promote wilderness values as set forth in the Wilderness Act of 1964, would not allow new water infrastructure or diversions inside the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and would require all new water supply to be obtained outside the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
  • The EIS must consider a Water Conservation Alternative.  This alternative would assess using aggressive water conservation measures by Wenatchee Valley cities, including restrictions on lawn watering (as the citizens of Seattle have learned to do).  This alternative should also assess transfer of water rights from irrigation districts to cities, where orchards have already been torn out and replaced with residential subdivisions.  This alternative should also assess agricultural irrigation efficiency, such as replacing open gravity canals with pipes and pumps and other 21st century concepts.  A proposed Conservation Alternative is linked here.
  • The EIS must consider an Irrigation District Water Right Change Alternative, which would fix Icicle Creek’s low flow problem.  This alternative would evaluate moving the Icicle-Peshastin Irrigation District’s water right diversion, which presently takes 100 cubic feet per second out of Icicle Creek, to the Wenatchee River downstream about 3 miles.  This measure, which would permanently fix Icicle Creek’s low flow problem, would convert the IPID diversion from gravity flow to pumping (requiring electrical power). The Icicle Work Group should therefore analyze renewable energy options to supply that power, including solar, wind and in-canal hydroelectric.
  • The EIS must consider a Water Right Relinquishment Alternative.  Removal of water from the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is on the table only because IPID holds water rights that were grandfathered when the Wilderness was created.  And – as IPID will tell anyone who will listen – every year they use what they need.  When the dam at Eightmile Lake fell down decades ago they didn’t fix it because they did not need more water.  When a party doesn’t use their rights, they lose them.  “Use It Or Lose It” – the basic rule of western water law – is controlling.   The EIS needs to analyze this.

The IWG’s plan to exploit the Alpine Lakes Wilderness is a camel’s-nose-under-the-tent proposal.  As climate change alters the hydrology of the western U.S., we can expect to see many attempts to expand water projects that were grandfathered into wilderness areas. Wilderness advocates need to weigh in by May 11, for the sake of Alpine Lakes and for wilderness values in general.

__________________________

*The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Society (ALPS) was invited and declined to participate.  The Center for Environmental Law & Policy (CELP) participated in IWG meetings for two-plus years and then resigned when the operating procedures were changed to gag CELP’s objection to wilderness water projects.

 

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Dismantling the Enchantment Lakes by Pick and Shovel

Ski Hill Lawn 1

Ski Hill residences in Leavenworth are served water by Icicle Irrigation District. Inside Leavenworth, the District’s water is growing large and lush lawns, pears not so much.

‘”We have helicopters scheduled to go up to Eight Mile,” [IPID manager Tony] Jantzer said, “We’ll start on Eight Mile, digging that out. We’ll move to Colchuck on Wednesday. I hope to get more water out of those lakes . . .”

All the work will be done the old-fashioned way with picks and shovels.  At Eight Mile Lake Jantzer said they should be able to clear out four or five feet, which should produce another 160 acre feet of water.

The outlet at Colchuck Lake is down three feet.  Once that is dug out, it should produce another 100 acre feet of water . . .’

Ian Dunn, Leavenworth Echo, “Icicle/Peshastin Irrigation Districts struggling to provide enough water” (Sept. 2, 2015).

When the Alpine Lakes Wilderness was designated in 1976, the Icicle and Peshastin Irrigation Districts (IPID) held pre-existing rights to divert water from several of the Enchantment Lakes – and those water rights were grandfathered in.  This month, however, the Irrigation Districts are taking the unprecedented step of helicoptering into the Wilderness to lower the outlets to at least two of the lakes – Eightmile and Colchuck — and take more water.

Ski Hill Lawn 2 (6-18-15)

More Leavenworth lawn irrigated compliments of the Icicle Irrigation District diversions from the Enchantment Lakes. A remnant pear orchard appears in the background.

This project offers multiple ironies.  The largest irony is that, although the Districts do serve water to Wenatchee Valley pear growers, many orchards have been converted into residential neighborhoods as the Cities of Leavenworth and Cashmere have expanded their urban boundaries.  IPID is diverting water out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to irrigate not just pears, but also very large expanses of lawn.

The IPID manager acknowledged this in a Sept. 2, 2015 interview with the Leavenworth Echo, where he lamented the difficulty of getting district customers to conserve water.  According to the article, there are:

“1,143 users in the Icicle Irrigation District, the bulk of which is residential.  Over the course of the long, hot summer Jantzer said the Icicle users have been using record[] amounts of water.”

Adding to the incongruities, IPID’s dismantling and de-watering of the Enchantment Lakes is up for funding by the Washington Department of Ecology’s drought-relief funding program.   Ecology originally granted IPID $41,000 to install pumps into Eightmile Lake, but according to a Sept. 3 Capital Press article, the District was unable to rent helicopters of the size needed to implement that project.   Ecology’s website now indicates it is considering granting $12,500 to IPID for the “pick and shovel” alternative.  Thus, the public will likely be paying IPID to inflict its destruction on the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Normally an application to take more water out of a lake would require public comment and review, and strict statutory standards to prevent harm to the environment and other water users.  But Ecology’s drought relief funding rule exempts applications from public review and requires expedited decisions – within 15 days.  Questions regarding IPID’s relinquishment of water rights that it has not used for “80 to 100 years” remain unanswered.

Also missing in action is the U.S. Forest Service, which is tasked with managing and protecting the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  Do IPID’s easements and special use permits really allow it to tamper with these lakes?

There’s a back story too.  Icicle-Peshastin Irrigation District has been eyeing methods for increased access to Alpine Lakes water for some time.  As described in Naiads’ February 2015 four-part series, “New Dams and Diversions for the Alpine Lakes,” IPID, Ecology, and several other public agencies formed the Icicle Work Group in order to “bargain” for more water out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

IPID Ditch 4 (6-18-15)

IPID’s canal transports water from Icicle Creek to its customers. Several miles of the canal are only partially lined, and leak enough water to support a robust but artificial riparian zone.

The Center for Environmental Law & Policy resigned from the Icicle Work Group in July 2015 because of onerous new rules converting the IWG from consensus to majority rule.  The new rules require IWG members to support the decisions of the majority and prohibit public dissent.  (Full disclosure:  CELP was represented by the author of this post.)

Before resigning, CELP circulated a Water Conservation Potential Report, describing IPID’s inefficient operations and proposing alternative methods to “solve” upper Wenatchee Valley water supply problems.  Chief among these is reduction of lawn irrigation in the Ski Hill residential zone.  Another solution is to line IPID’s leaky canal, which as shown in the photo at right, is supporting a substantial amount of phreatophyte vegetation.

Rather than take the “soft path” of water conservation, however, IPID has chosen the hard path of pick-axe and shovel.   Apparently, during drought, no water resource is safe – even waters in federally protected wilderness.

 


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How the City of Spokane is Letting Its River Down

2011 Water Billboard

Mayoral water war on display. (Photo: Spokesman Review) Check out www.H2KNOW.info for a different kind of message regarding Spokane’s water.

It’s hard to forget the water wars of 2011 – the mayoral water wars that is.  Anonymous billboards went up around town questioning why – with 10 trillion gallons of water in the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer – the City of Spokane would raise water rates to induce conservation.  A mayor and a city council member lost their seats, due in part to this highly misleading message.

Abundant groundwater notwithstanding, Mother Nature, combined with a City revenue structure that incentivizes water sales, have created a one-two punch for Spokane’s “most precious resource.”   The Spokane River is flowing at near-record lows.  It doesn’t have to be this way . . . but somebody in the City of Spokane needs to speak up.

Spokane River - Sandifur Bridge - 630 cfs - 8-8-15

Spokane River flowing at 630 cfs at the Westlink Pedestrian Bridge on August 8, 2015.

The Spokane River is directly fed by the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer, so groundwater pumping by all of the municipalities in this region is causing extreme low flows.  For the last few days, the River has been dropping into the 550 cfs range.  That’s 300 cfs below the minimum flow that the Department of Ecology adopted last February, and less than half of what the flow has been this time of year for the last few years (and a third of what it was historically).  The lowest flow on record is around 450 cfs, and it seems possible that a new record may be in the offing if people don’t put the brakes on their water usage.

As the City’s Water System Plan states (and common sense tells us), summer is the season of high water use.  From October to April, monthly water demand averages 31 to 44 million gallons per day (mgd).  May through September, the average jumps to between 64 and 114 mgd.  But this year, 2015, July usage was a whopping 123 mgd.   No wonder the Spokane River is suffering.

The City of Spokane has failed the Spokane River by stepping back from reasonable water conservation planning and implementation.

  • Arizona Block Rate Chart

    Examples of inclining block rate structures in Arizona. When a higher tier kicks in sooner and goes higher, people begin to conserve. Spokane’s rate structure would fall near the bottom of this graph.

    Water rates.   A “conservation rate structure” is the most effective way to get water customers to pay attention to and cut back on their water use.  The pocket book speaks.  The basic idea – the more you use the higher your rate – creates an incentive to drop your water usage into a lower/cheaper tier.  But Spokane’s rates make very minor distinctions for higher usage – and are ineffective in encouraging Spokane citizens to turn the outdoor spigot and sprinklers down (or off).

    For example, Spokane residential customers can use “6 units” of water (about 4,500 gallons) for 28 cents/unit or $1.71.  The next “4 units” (about 3,000) gallons costs 60 cents/unit or a total of $2.41.  The next jump is to 81 cents per unit.  A household can use 15,000 gallons per month (500 gallons per day) – a large amount – for just $12 per month.  These are not conservation-inducing water rates.

  • Conservation Goals.  Washington law requires water purveyors to adopt water conservation goals.  The City’s goal is to reduce water usage by 2% each year.  It is a modest goal, but the City can’t seem to meet it (in part because the City’s water rates are so low).  In 2014, the City’s summer season water usage actually exceeded the conservation goal by 13% (goal was 8.5 billion gallons, actual use was 9.6 billion gallons).  According to the City’s 2014 Drinking Water Report, the reason the City did not meet its goals was usage by commercial/industrial users.   Clearly, this is an area where higher water rates could have a meaningful impact.
  • Water Leakage.   The City is losing a lot of water out of its “World Water II era” water mains.  The Drinking Water Report cites 17.8% leakage in 2014.   The state’s water efficiency law, adopted in 2003, requires a cities to control water leakage to a rate of 10% or less.  Twelve years and counting, many wonder when Spokane will get around to compliance.
  • Water Billing Practices.   If you are a Spokane utility customer you get a bill every month.  And it tells you how much water you’ve used.  But the City only checks your meter every 60 days or so.  So, by the time you get a bill  with actual data, it is really too late to save much water.   (Hint:  read your own meter to monitor your usage and set personal conservation goals.)
  • Water Conservation Table - Spokane WSP (draft Dec. 2014) (2)

    Spokane Water Conservation Measures (City Water System Plan, draft Dec. 2014)

    City Conservation Plan.   The City, by law, must adopt a water conservation plan every six years.   The latest plan, a December 2014 draft, identifies 19 measures (table at right).  These include water audits, low flow appliance rebates, education, and etc.  Some measures are not being implemented and some don’t even make sense.

Clearly, with record usage this year, these measures are not working, and  as mentioned, the City’s water rate system is not effective.  The City’s “Slow the Flow” campaign is virtually invisible. (And really, does anyone change their water habits based on a 3×8 inch insert in their utility bill?)

Non-profit groups Sierra Club Upper Columbia River Group and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy have taken leadership to encourage residents of Spokane to cut their water usage.   The H2KNOW campaign has billboards up and is getting media coverage.   Visit the H2KNOW.info website and Facebook page and see if you can translate a few tips on water reduction into your daily life.


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Nooksack Water Thievery Redux

Sherman Polinder graphics 20150625-09_signed

The aerial map at top shows the location of a Nooksack Nine diverter (red dot). The photo shows the diversion device.  A comparison of GPS coordinates reveals that, on June 24, 2015,  Ecology issued Water Right No. S1-28777 for this diversion location to Sherman Polinder.  Under the terms of the permit, Polinder is prohibited from diverting when Nooksack River flows are below their minimums, as was the case when the photo was taken.

As reported in our recent post, “The Tale of the Nooksack Nine,” the Department of Ecology went above and beyond its usual water mismanagement when — faced with clear evidence of illegal water diversions from the Nooksack River – the agency decided to issue permits, rather than penalty orders, to the culprits.

More recently, it has been revealed that the Nooksack Nine — who now possess water rights — continue to divert in violation of the requirements of their newly issued rights.  When does it stop? 

On June 24 and 26 Ecology made good on a bad idea and issued water rights allowing the Nooksack Nine to divert water.  These rights are, of course, interruptible.  The permittees may use water only when the Nooksack River is meeting its regulatory instream flows.  And because the Nooksack doesn’t meet those flows 50-80% of the time during summer months, these new water rights don’t provide much water.

(As noted in the previous post, these rule-based instream flows are inadequate to support salmon life cycles, and need to be updated to protect higher flows.)

Nooksack Hydrograph for June 15, 2015

June 2015 flows in the Nooksack River (blue line) are well below the instream flow rule – which requires post-1976 water users to curtail their use.

The Nooksack River – like virtually every other river in Washington this year – is way, way below it’s normal flows.   The graph at right indicates the Nooksack is at the lowest levels ever recorded for this time of year.  So anyone with a water right issued after 1985 should not be diverting at all.

On June 25 and 30, 2015, Lummi Nation staff again floated the Nooksack River and identified 39 potential illegal diversions.

And guess who was diverting?  That’s right – seven of the Nooksack Nine diverters were taking water out of the river – in violation of their brand-new rights.

Never mind that Ecology promised that enforcing these new permits would be their “number one priority.”  Never mind that Lummi Nation and CELP asked Ecology to not issue the permits in the first place. Never mind that this sets a terrible precedent for hundreds of other illegal water users in the Nooksack basin.

Ed & Dale Blok Graphics (6-30-15)

The aerial map at top shows the location of a Nooksack Nine diverter (red dot). The photo shows the diversion device. A comparison of GPS coordinates reveals that, on June 24, 2015, Ecology issued Water Right No. S1-28775 for this diversion location to Ed & Dale Blok. Under the terms of the permit, the Bloks are prohibited from diverting when Nooksack River flows are below their minimums, as was the case when the photo was taken.

On July 14, 2014, Lummi Nation sent letters to Maia Bellon, Director of the Department of Ecology, documenting the 39 potential illegal diversions and requesting enforcement action.  Here’s how Merle Jefferson, Director of the Lummi Natural Resources Department summed it up:

Illegal water diversions from the Nooksack River and its tributaries have been occurring far too long, to the detriment of salmon and the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights to harvest.  We expect that Ecology will enforce existing state laws and issue both cease and desist orders and appropriate monetary penalties when it is determined that individuals are diverting water without a legal right to do so.  Ecology should not allow individuals and business to illegally divert a public resource for profit at the expense of others and the natural environment that depend on the same resource.

Well said.

And we would add – Ecology claims that its enforcement authority is limited to a “step-wise compliance process” and that it cannot issue enforcement orders and penalties without first “working with” the violator.  This is wrong.  The law is clear.  No one has a right to take public waters without a permit, or without being in compliance with their permit.   Ecology’s handholding with unauthorized water users is incorrect as a matter of law and unsound as a matter of public policy.

In point of fact, Ecology should shut down the diverters and fine them $5,000 per day for each day of illegal water diversion.   Indeed, the unauthorized use of water is a criminal misdemeanor, the local water master has the power to arrest water code violaters, and the local prosecuting attorney has the duty to assist.

Nooksack River water thievery is illuminating the Department of Ecology’s inability and unwillingness to uphold the law and to protect water resources that the state holds in public trust for the common good.

In a year of drought, this really matters.  Is any elected, appointed or employed official with the State of Washington listening?

___________

This is the third in a series of articles on Whatcom Water Insanity. Part 1 examines water stealing by the City of Lynden.  Part 2 tells “The Tale of the Nooksack Nine.”  Jean Melious’ blog, Get Whatcom Planning, also provides great info about Whatcom County water woes.   Photos and graphics above are courtesy of the Lummi Nation.

 

 


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Drought Conundrums

Westlink Bridge at 1500 cfs (6-9-15)

Rocks are emerging out of the Spokane River as flows dropped from 4,000 cfs over the weekend to the 1,500 cfs shown here. (6-9-15)

You’d have to be a hermit to be unaware that Washington state is having a bad water year.    The winter of 2014-15 was very warm — 5 degrees F warmer than average.  It rained plenty, but snowed little.  And what snow there was is now mostly gone.

Spring runoff for most rivers came weeks if not months early, and rivers are now flowing at levels we’d expect to see in mid-summer.  Rivers need snowmelt to sustain flows throughout the summer.   Unless it rains, hot weather will cause an increase in water temperatures in streams and rivers.  Combined with low flows, river conditions will be hostile to salmon and trout species that need cold, abundant water to migrate and complete their life cycles.

Pacific Ocean Sea Surface Temp Anomalies (NOAA 6_8_2015)

The 2015 El Nino – Pacific Ocean Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies as of June 8, 2015 (Graphic: NOAA)

And, it probably won’t rain.  El Niño, the ocean-warming phenomenon that drives weather patterns, is present in the North Pacific.  NOAA scientists are observing high sea surface temperatures – unusual for this time of year – and predicting an 80% chance that El Nino will last through the end of the year.

Washington State University’s Agriculture Weather Network translates the El Nino phenomenon into a prediction for Washington’s summer weather:    El Nino typically “leads to warmer weather and less precipitation across much of the Pacific Northwest.”

The bottom line:  Washington state is in the midst of a very serious drought.   And, there’s potential it will become a multi-year drought — similar to California.

Given all this, questions come to mind about water management in Washington state.  In some communities, it appears we neither recognize the dangers nor are responding in a logical fashion to the risks at hand.   One way or another, money appears to be a predominant factor in drought response.

70_Percent of your water use

No comment. (Graphic: waterwiseirrigation.com)

Question:  Why is it there is a major focus on getting emergency water supplies to farmers (especially in the Yakima River basin), but municipalities such as Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane are either messaging “everything’s okay” or just not saying anything at all?  

Short Answer:  Summer is the big revenue season for municipal water suppliers (primarily because of residential outdoor irrigation).  Water purveyors do not want to signal that their customers should conserve because it will result in reduced revenue and hurt their bottom line.  Regrettably, rivers will be seriously harmed because of this ‘no-conserve’ message, which is being disseminated not just by the purveyors but also by the Dept of Ecology and the Governor’s office.

Question: Why did “junior” water users in the Yakima basin plant cherry and apple orchards and other perennial crops, even though they were fully aware they would have limited access to water during a drought?  

Short Answer:  Water users who hold “junior” or “interruptible” water rights are on notice that in a water-short year, their water supply will be cut.   When farmers with junior rights plant crops that cannot survive without regular irrigation, they are making an investment decision that involves substantial economic risk.   In reality, junior water right holders have been betting on a bail-out.  Per next item, they appear to be getting one.

ECY Drought Response Budget (ECY Website 6-9-15)

The Department of Ecology will spend millions of dollars to subsidize farmers who made bad choices about crop plantings, but only $25,000 on “conservation education. From Dept. of Ecology 2015 Drought website.

Question:  Why is the state spending millions of dollars in public subsidies for water mitigation for orchardists who are now destroying last year’s apple crops?

Short Answer:  Washington farmers are destroying large amounts of last year’s apple crop that they were unable to sell.  They blame the inability to ship to international destinations due to port slowdowns, but last year saw record apple over-production.   What are the chances that Washington state will subsidize apple crops this year that will be destroyed next year?  Indeed, the Department of Ecology is spending millions of dollars to underwrite drought leasing programs and emergency well use in the Walla Walla and Yakima River basins for agricultural users who hold junior water rights.

Washington’s Office of the Columbia River has spent nearly $200 million on water supply projects over the past 8 years, but very little of it has been directed toward water scarcity and drought response.  Instead, OCR has function more like the Office of Cadillac Desert, studying dams and other irrigation projects that, if built, will ultimately cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Question: Given drought conditions, why is the Department of Ecology issuing new water rights in areas where water supply is likely to be deficient?

Short Answer:  For the last 3 years, the state legislature has included a budget proviso requiring Ecology to issue at least 500 water right decisions each year or lose a half million dollars in budget.  This has converted the Water Resources Program into a permit factory.

One example of the ensuing folly is the proposal to issue water permits to illegal water users in the Nooksack River basin.  Agency resources for the type of water management activities critical for managing for drought have dwindled to negligible levels (e.g., metering water use, promoting water conservation, measuring available surface and ground water supplies, enforcing against illegal use).

Meanwhile, of the state’s nearly $10 million drought budget, only $25,000 is dedicated to “conservation education.”

As rivers recede, the 2015 drought promises to reveal many mysteries and closeted skeletons.    Who is making money off of drought?   How low can our rivers go?  The salmon life cycle is 2-4 years – how will the 2015 drought affect salmon returns in 2017-19?  Will farms go out of business?  Will farmers make more risk averse cropping decisions in the future?  Inquiring minds, stay tuned.


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Spokane River flows drop nearly 2,000 cfs in a single day

The gates have closed at Post Falls dam to ensure that Lake Coeur d’Alene water levels are maintained for boaters.

Meanwhile, flows have dropped nearly 2,000 cfs in the last 24 hours for the Spokane River.   The theory is that redband trout fry have emerged from their redds, and so there is no impact on fish.   These flows are fully controlled by Avista.

Link here to watch Spokane River flows in real time, and pray for the river.

 

Graph of  Discharge, cubic feet per second