The water levels out at Lake Koocanusa are expected to be lower over the course of the summer, but there shouldn’t be too much of an impact for recreational users, according to officials from BC Hydro and the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The conditions have been blamed on an average snowpack and precipitation that was more rain that snow.
“There’s pretty good snowpack—and when I say pretty good—I’m talking 80-90 per cent of average in the upper part of the Kootenay Basin, but once you get down into Cranbrook and into the States, there’s virtually no snow,” said Joel Fenolio, the Upper Columbia Senior Water Manager with the U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers.
“….It was a wet winter, it was about 115 per cent of average as far as precipitation but it all basically ran off and into Libby.”
Prior to the rain over the last few days, Fenolio noted that the water level forecast have been dropping and that the reservoir will likely be roughly 15 to 20 feet from full in August. At full flow, the lake level is at elevation 2,459 feet.
According to Fenolio, this year has been the driest year since 2009-2010, in terms of maximum elevations at the Libby Dam.
“In the last four years, we’ve been pretty wet and we were able to refill Libby above 2,450, so it seems to appease a lot of the recreational enthusiasts normally,” he said.
In terms of water supply across the region, it’s looking pretty average, according to Darren Sherbot, a manager of operations planning with BC Hydro.
“The story starts evolving once you get south of the border, unless you’re on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland where it’s much below normal,” Sherbot said. “Here it’s average.”
Most of the precipitation manifested into rain rather than snow, he added.
“In terms of the weather, it was above average all across the East Kootenay, but it manifested in rain rather than snow so the reservoirs across the East Kootenay system tend to be primed in advance of the melting snow,” Sherbot continued.
“…Levels across Kootenay Lake will probably be peaking at 1,748 or less, so no issues there and we’ll probably see typical levels across the summer or slightly lower, depending on what our flows are.”
In terms of the water flows on sturgeon recovery in the Kootenay River, there isn’t going to be enough water supply to do two peak flows to help the spawning fish move further upstream.
Jason Flory a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who is working on white sturgeon recovery efforts, noted that a double peak—which they’ve done for the past two years—helps get the fish upstream, which helps with spawning.
The population of hatchery-raised sturgeon—with 15,000-30,000 released into the river system at under two years old—seem to be thriving, but the fish are having trouble reproducing in the wild.
“They still spawn but they’re not producing any juveniles,” Flory said. “They’re spawning in an area that’s covered in sand and silt. So the eggs get fertilized, they drop down there, get buried and they die.
“So half the approach is to put rocks there so they don’t get covered, then the other half of the approach is for them to migrate upstream to Bonner’s Ferry where there’s no sand and silt, it’s all rocky at the bottom.”