A river rises
Staff Writer | July 1, 2022 1:09 AM
COEUR d’ALENE — The Spokane River is rising to normal levels after being lower than normal early in the boating season.
“At this point anywhere we would run, we can run,” said Capt. Carl Fus, general manager of Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises. “It’s perfectly safe for us.”
The river's level at the Spokane Street Bridge in Post Falls on Thursday morning was 2,126.71.
“The elevation of the water in the river above the dam is slowly increasing,” according to Avista, which opened the Q'emiln Park boat launch in Post Falls on Thursday.
“That’s plenty of water for us to go anywhere we would normally go cruise on the river,” Fus said.
Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises offers three-hour cruises that include the Spokane River.
Recently, the river level at the Post Falls Dam was about 2,122, which was lower than normal for this time of year.
Climatologist Cliff Harris said that was due primarily to the cold, wet spring that left plenty of snowpack in the mountains that would otherwise have been melting and part of the spring runoff.
According to Avista, the elevation of Lake Coeur d'Alene was 2,127.42 Thursday morning, which was 7 inches below normal maximum summer elevation. The elevation of Lake Coeur d'Alene will increase to near full over the next week.
Some Spokane River boaters reportedly scraped bottom in particularly shallow areas early in the season.
Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises had no such issues.
“We just had to be much more cautious on the Spokane River, watching for the shallow areas,” Fus said.
The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office said there have been no reported accidents on the river connected to low river levels.
Annie Gannon, Avista spokeswoman, said Avista does not control the elevation of the lake.
“While the Spokane River starts at the outlet of Coeur d’Alene Lake, Post Falls dam is nine miles downstream,” she wrote in an email to The Press. “Because there is a natural flow restriction at the lake outlet, Coeur d’Alene lake will rise, often well above summer level, during high runoff periods.”
She said this year the lake was 2.4 feet above summer level on June 17. The lake hasn’t been this high, this late in the year, since 1974, Gannon said.
“The higher the elevation of the lake, the more water will flow down the Spokane River towards Post Falls Dam,” she wrote. “Avista has to pass all the water flowing in the river through the dam.”
Because only a small amount of water can flow through the turbine generators, if there is a lot of water flowing in the river, most of the water has to pass through the spillway gates.
“When the spillway gates are open, the river is at a natural level (as if the dam didn’t exist) and the river is not usable by boaters,” Gannon wrote. “In the summer time, when the flow in the river is small and the spillway gates are closed, the water stacks up in the nine miles between Coeur d’Alene lake and the river becomes more like the lake. When the river is at summer level (spillway gates closed), recreators can use their boats on the river.”
She wrote that in late spring or early summer, as the elevation of Lake Coeur d’Alene returns to summer level and as the amount of water flowing in the Spokane River decreases, Avista starts to close the spillway gates at Post Falls Dam.
However, Avista cannot start to close spillway gates until the lake elevation is below maximum summer elevation, 2,128 above sea level.
The lake elevation went below 2,128 on Saturday and Avista started to close spillway gates.
“Avista cannot just slam the spillway gates shut. Avista has a limit as to how fast we can close the gates because we cannot risk stranding fish below the dam and this is set in our federal river license,” Gannon wrote. “While this takes time, it also protects the natural resources so important to all of us.”
In an average year, Avista would have the spillway gates closed by June 22. This year, it finished closing the spillway gates Thursday.