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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Avista expects puny spring runoff

Avista Utilities is forecasting extremely low spring runoff, which could bring Lake Coeur d’Alene’s level down this summer and make power more expensive to produce.

Sufficient runoff is expected to keep the lake’s level normal at the beginning of the summer, said Hugh Imhof, a company spokesman. However, the lake level could drop by August, potentially preventing some waterfront property owners, especially on the Spokane River in Post Falls, from keeping boats in the water.

“I’m sure they’re very concerned and we’ll do our best to keep it up, but Mother Nature is in control here,” Imhof said. “There are some places where they only have a few inches of leeway. If it drops down a few inches, their propeller would be hitting the bottom.”

The company’s water managers warn that continued dry weather could also affect the water levels of the Spokane River and Lake Spokane (also called Long Lake) later in the summer.

“This is the first time we have ever encountered conditions like this,” said Gary Stockinger, Avista’s hydro operations engineer, in a news release.

In addition, with runoff levels at 50 percent of normal, hydroelectric generation is expected to be only 80 percent of normal, the news release said. The numbers are not identical because under normal conditions, Avista’s dams can’t use all the water flowing through.

The low runoff means Avista will have to use other, more costly, power sources to meet customer demand. Hydropower is about $45 a megawatt cheaper to generate than electricity produced at gas-fired power plants. Any additional cost the company accrues by using more expensive power sources eventually could be passed on to customers in the form of higher rates, Imhof said.

The company does not expect to have any problem meeting customer demand for energy, said Ron Peterson, Avista’s vice president of energy resources.

“It is fortunate that we recently obtained full ownership of our natural gas generating plant, Coyote Springs 2,” Peterson said. “The plant will help us to meet a portion of the shortfall and allow us to avoid buying even more expensive energy from the wholesale markets.”

The power and lake level outlook both depend on the weather, Imhof said.

“It could start raining in a week and just rain all summer,” he said. “If that’s the case, we won’t have any problem with water.”

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