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Low River Runoff Sparks Debate

by Chris Mulick, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, February 17, 2005

Low river runoff this spring and summer won't turn the lights out, inspire another energy crisis or threaten reservoir levels heading into fall, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council was told Wednesday.

But it won't help lower electric rates either.

Summer dam operations designed to aid fish will cost at least $40 million more than usual, said John Fazio, a senior systems analyst for the council -- an agency charged with balancing the needs of power supply and fish.

And though the Bonneville Power Administration is likely to make its annual payment to the U.S. Treasury for construction and operation of the federal dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers, it's unlikely to have the inventory to dramatically boost its bottom line by selling surplus power to the Southwest.

"It doesn't look very good," Fazio told the council during a meeting in Portland.

In Olympia, Gov. Christine Gregoire said she discussed the potential for drought with aides over the weekend and determined that it's not too soon to begin thinking about a strategy for providing drought relief to those who need it.

"I have already indicated that we're going to have to put something in our budget to ready ourselves," she said.

The latest forecast by the National Weather Service's River Forecast Center pegs January through July runoff at The Dalles at 77 percent of normal, nearly identical to runoff seen last year. But that assumes normal precipitation from here on out. And that's not likely, Fazio said.

"The likelihood of this picture looking better is very low," he said.

Though well below normal, the current forecast still is well above the runoff witnessed during the 2001 drought. Snowpack is actually near normal in Canada. But it's just 25 percent to 50 percent of normal in Washington and Northern Idaho.

Gregoire said she already is reviewing the state's response to droughts in 2001 and 1977 to consider her options.

"If we don't get snow here soon we're going to be in trouble," Jay Manning, the incoming director for the state Department of Ecology, told reporters last week. "I want you all to go home and pray for snow because we need it."

Without dramatic improvement, this year will mark the sixth straight with below-average runoff.

Chris Mulick
Low River Runoff Sparks Debate
Tri-City Herald, February 17, 2005

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