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2015 Snowpack Conditions Update - Spokane and Clark Fork

Sean Visintainer - 05/04/15

Snowing on the Coeur d Alene River.

Get your fishing in now!

We get the question a lot... "Are the rivers in shape?" It's a normal question we get daily, we don't mind, it's our job to inform everyone. To help answer this question though I thought it might be useful to ask someone that has some more professional insight to what our snowpack conditions are like. I recently inquired about snowpack with Patrick Maher, a senior Hydro Operations Engineer with Avista. He has been with Avista for 19 years and to say he understands river flows would probably be an understatement.

Since most of us head east to fish, I only inquired about the Spokane (CDA, St Joe, Spokane) and the Clark Fork River systems. Patrick was kinda enough to answer a few questions and provide us with some great links to river forecast and other information. Thanks Patrick for your help!

Snowpack Condition Q & A with Patrick Maher of Avista:

Q: Can you provide a brief description of what a Hydro Operations Engineer does?

What I do as a Hydro Operations Engineer is primarily to work with our "Power Supply Schedulers" to make sure they know how much water they will have with which they can generate electricity. Schedulers have to schedule power generation to match load (how much electricity is being used) each hour. Generation and Load must match for the system to stay stable. Therefore they have to plan ahead to make sure they match. Since our river systems have very little storage, we have to monitor what the flows are and try to predict what they are going to be.

Q: In general, it seems that snowpack this year is very below average. What is Avista's view on current snowpack conditions for the Spokane system and the Clark Fork?

Snow pack in the Spokane River drainage is pretty much the lowest we have ever seen it. Current snow pack for the Spokane is only 37% of normal.

The Clark Fork at Cabinet Gorge is made up of inflows from 4 different drainages. About 60% of the snow water comes from the Flathead basin (80% swe). The other 40% comes from the Upper Clark Fork (80% swe), The Bitterroot (71% swe), and the Lower Clark Fork (52% swe). So the snow water equivalent at Cabinet Gorge right now is about 75% of normal.

Spokane River Drainage Snow Water Equivalent % of Normal by Year. Clark Fork Drainage Snow Water Equivalent % of Normal by Year.

Q: Predicting how snowpack melts can be a complicated process, do you anticipate a quick runoff this season or do you feel it will be drawn out?

The Spokane river runoff has pretty much already occurred. We peaked in February 13th. The runoff for the Clark Fork will largely depend upon temperatures.

Q: What is the streamflow outlook for the year looking? Spokane (CDA/Joe) and Clark Fork drainages. Is there any anticipation of a wet, rainy summer?

The forecast is actually for a warmer than normal spring and summer.

The River Forecast Center is a good source for prediction of flows:

Long Range Forecast for Spokane River,

Long Range Forecast for Clark Fork River,

Monthly Temperature and Precipitation Outlook

Conclusion

My conclusion from this is... Go Fishing Now! Not that you can't later, it's just says to me the best fishing will be now through June. After that it may be a tough game. I'm certainly not trying to paint a doom-and-gloom picture because that is definitely not my personality, I just think with light snowpack things are well ahead of schedule so we don't want you to miss out on the good fishing opportunities.

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