Officials with BC Hydro and the US Army Corps of Engineers are continuing to monitor the water levels out at Lake Koocanusa given the size of the snowpack this past winter.
Joel Fenolio, a senior water manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says there has been an early runoff this spring, but that shouldn’t affect the lake levels for summer recreation.
“Right now, we’ve drawn the reservoir down,” Fenolio said. “We think we’ve got a pretty good spot for flood control downstream and hopefully get the reservoir up for recreation in the summer. We’re looking for Libby Dam to reach it’s peak elevation sometime late-July, early-August and right now we’re looking at a probable range between 2,449 and 2,454 and that will be sometime in August.”
Much of the early runoff can be attributed to the amount of snowfall the region had over the winter months.
“The snowpack is about 130 per cent of average, so that’s a pretty healthy snowpack,” Fenolio said, “but the thing that has been really different this year relative to other years is the soil moisture. We have really high soil moisture levels throughout the inland northwest, so when the water is coming off, it’s coming off harder and faster than we usually see when it does start to melt and run off.”
Right now, the lake level is sitting at elevation 2,378, while full pool in the summer is elevation 2,459.
In other areas throughout the region, such as Kootenay Lake, BC Hydro is liaising with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to monitor levels and mitigate any flooding concerns.
“Our focus over the next month is mostly on the Kootenay River system below the Duncan Dam and through Kootenay Lake,” said Darren Sherbot, with BC Hydro. “We expect Kootenay Lake to crest just below the onset of minor flood concerns over the last week of May and early in June and we will be watching that closely.”
Monitoring water levels and river flow is important for more than just flooding; the Army Corps is also working with biologists to help sturgeon spawning efforts. Officials are hoping to discharge water at peak capacity twice this spring — what’s called a double-peak operation — that would create ideal spawning conditions downstream of the Kootenay River in the U.S.
“We have a lot of water, which gives us a decent amount of water to work with for sturgeon flows during the spring, which gives flexibility,” said Scott Lawrence, a public affairs specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers. “For this year, we’re going to do a double peak operation; right now we’re just starting the first peak and then there’ll be a short pause and once the higher elevation snow melt starts to come off, we’ll start the second peak.”
Increased flows help with sturgeon migration upriver around Bonner’s Ferry where the habitat is thought to be conducive to successful spawning, egg hatching and survival of larval sturgeon. The sturgeon are considered endangered, however, there are efforts from both the American and Canadian side to recover and increase the population.
In a statement released at the end of April, Kootenay Columbia MP Wayne Stetski said he is keeping an eye on the water levels at Lake Koocanusa.
“It’s critical that we keep a line of communication open with our US counterparts,” Stetski said. “The expectation at this point is that the lake will reach full pool in July. I will continue to monitor the situation.”