Jun 20 , 2012

Aerial view of Post Falls Dam Spring 2012

 

 
School’s out and the weather is finally beginning to warm, which will have many of you making summer river and lake recreation plans. Before you head out for fun on the water, we would like to provide you with information about current river flows and lake levels, as well as our plans for summer operations at Post Falls Dam.

 
The amount of snow in the mountains continues to be well above normal, because the cool weather has slowed the snow melt. At the beginning of June, Avista began closing spill gates at Post Falls Dam. However, above normal June rainfall has again pushed Lake Coeur d’Alene above its summer elevation. Avista has had to re-open all spill gates and current flows in the Spokane River are more than twice the volume we would normally expect this time of year.

With snowpack still over 200 percent of normal for the Spokane River basin, and a forecast of cooler and wetter than average weather, the runoff is expected to continue well into the summer.
 
Avista will likely be spilling excess water over the spillways at Post Fall Dam until after the Fourth of July holiday this year. Because of the open spill gates, the river upstream of Post Falls Dam will continue to be lower than normal until after the runoff season, and the City of Post Falls boat launch at Q’emiln Park will not open until after July 4th. Typically this occurs sometime between Memorial Day and mid-July. The median date for closing the gates is June 22.

Avista operates our hydroelectric facilities with a focus on several different objectives:
 
  • Meeting customer demand with reliable energy service
  • Operating safely and efficiently
  • Complying with local, federal and state regulations and laws
  • Being good environmental stewards
  • Providing recreation opportunities


Safety on the river
As always, we ask you to exercise caution on the water, as river and lake levels can change at any time depending on weather and other factors. The water is still cold, which puts those who are recreating on or near a lake or river at risk for hypothermia, even in warmer weather. Here is some other important safety information for your consideration:

  • Always wear a lifejacket on the water.
  • Obey all safety and warning signs.
  • Never fish, play or anchor your boat below a dam.
  • Sudden discharges can increase water flows in a hurry.
  • Don’t cross the boater safety cable above a dam. The current could pull you through a spill gate or drag you under water near a powerhouse.
  • Watch overhead clearances like cables and power lines when sailing.

The best way to get the latest information on anticipated elevation changes on Coeur d’Alene Lake, Lake Spokane, and the Spokane River is to call Avista’s 24-hour telephone information line.

In Idaho, call (208) 769-1357; in Washington, call (509) 495-8043.

The recorded information is provided to advise shoreline property owners, commercial and recreational users of changes in lake and river elevation levels that may affect plans for water use.
 
You can also check current river and lake levels on our website. Property owners and lake users are reminded to make necessary preparations, including removing boats from the water, and removing or securing docks and boathouses to accommodate changing water conditions.

For more information on lake and river levels, please call Pat Maher at (509) 495-4283.
Published: 6/20/2012  10:28 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 08 , 2012

Rainbow near Upper Falls powerhouse

Post by Dan Kolbet

The gray skies and damp days have certainly been a bummer over the last few weeks. Isn’t summer supposed to happen around June? But, as a signal to some light at the end of the tunnel, a huge rainbow spread across the Northwest yesterday. Avista’s Michael Williams happened to be at Riverfront Park last evening and snapped the image above.

The rainbow looks to be sticking out of our Upper Falls power house, which generates hydroelectricity for downtown Spokane. Clean, renewable and cheap hydropower is certainly a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for our region.

Thanks to Michael for sending us the photo. If you snap a great picture that includes an Avista building, crew or just something about energy, send it to us to share on our blog, Facebook page or Twitter – email conversation@avistautilities.com
 
Published: 6/8/2012  10:22 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Jun 06 , 2012
Use caution as water levels continue to change

Post Falls Dam, North Channel
The North Channel of the Post Falls Dam.
Because of the recent heavy rainfall in the North Idaho mountains, Avista has been actively opening spill gates at our Post Falls Dam. Over the past several days, river flows and lake levels have risen steadily. The St. Joe and Coeur d’Alene rivers, which feed Coeur d’Alene Lake, have been rising for almost a week and continue to do so. Coeur d’Alene Lake reached summer elevation of 2,128 Wednesday, June 6 and continues to rise as flows into the lake exceed the amount that can flow out of the lake into the Spokane River.

Once Avista begins controlling the level of Lake Coeur d'Alene each spring, we are required to open the spill gates at Post Falls to prevent the lake from going above its summer elevation.

There is still above-average snowpack in the high mountains for this time of year, and the National Weather Service is predicting higher than normal precipitation and cooler temperatures for the month of June.

How does it all work?
You may wonder why river levels drop above Post Falls Dam when Avista opens the spill gates. In the summer, when all the spill gates are closed, the river is filled with water and acts more like a lake. Levels  are held at a level very close to that of Coeur d’Alene Lake. But when we open the spill gates (some of which open all the way down to the river bed), the river flows naturally and the elevation of the water drops to river level. This is naturally much lower than it is when the gates are closed and the water is stacked up behind the dam - in fact, when all the gates are open, the elevation of the river above the dam is eight vertical feet lower than the summer level when the gates are closed.

We want to remind you to always exercise caution on the water, as river and lake levels can change at any time depending on weather and other factors. The water is still cold, which puts those who are recreating in a lake or river at risk for hypothermia.

Call Avista’s 24-hour telephone information line for information regarding anticipated elevation changes on Coeur d’ Alene Lake, Lake Spokane, and the Spokane River.

In Idaho, call (208) 769-1357; in Washington, call (509) 495-8043.
Published: 6/6/2012  2:15 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

May 30 , 2012
Cover of Shared Value Report
 
 
Over the past few years, we’ve heard from our customers and employees that they want more information on how we do business in areas like utility operations, environmental stewardship and our community impact. We’re glad you asked!

That information and more is available in our fourth annual report on our performance, “Together We Will Build Shared Value,” now online at avistautilities.com.
 
Our primary mission is to provide the energy you need for your life. The back story is all about what goes into providing that energy and how often this has additional benefits to the customers and communities we serve. That’s shared value.

In this year’s report, we tell many stories of how shared value is created throughout our business. For example, in the Utility Operations section we talk about how Avista must meet state-mandated energy savings targets. As part of our sustainable business practices, the report is published online only. 
 
We’ve made PDF files available of the entire report and four of its sections for your convenience in sharing the report with others.

Shared value is at the heart of what Avista does every day. We hope you’ll take the time to read this year’s report and give us your feedback. We want to hear from you about how – together – we can continue to build shared value.

 
Published: 5/30/2012  8:43 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

May 11 , 2012
video
 
Spokane River and Clark Fork River work targets fish survival, habitat and doing the right thing

Environmental Stewardship
If you’ve ever dipped a fishing rod into any of our local lakes or rivers you’re already aware of the great natural resources we enjoy in the Northwest. Because Avista operates hydroelectric facilities on the Clark Fork and Spokane rivers, we’ve made a commitment to the environment as part of our daily operations throughout Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Two great examples of Avista’s commitment to environmental stewardship are reducing invasive lake trout in Lake Pend Oreille and studying rainbow trout spawning on the Spokane River. These projects were featured in a 2010 “Safekeeping” segment of the Columbia Country television program which aired on Fox stations.

Clark Fork River
The Clark Fork Project segment features an ongoing collaborative project on Lake Pend Oreille to reduce the population of invasive lake trout. Lake Pend Oreille was once a world-class fishery for rainbow trout, bull trout and kokanee. In recent years, the lake has been taken over by lake trout (also called mackinaw), which do not coexist well with native bull trout, and which prey on kokanee, depleting the food sources for rainbow and bull trout. This project offers angler incentives and brings in commercial netters to “fish out” the invasive lake trout. Since this program’s inception more than 139,000 lake trout have been removed from the lake.

Avista helps fund the Lake Pend Oreille project through our Clark Fork Project license, which includes Noxon Rapids Dam in Montana and Cabinet Gorge Dam in northern Idaho.

Spokane River
The Spokane segment features a rainbow trout spawning study on the Spokane River, part of our 50-year operating license for the five hydroelectric developments that make up Avista’s Spokane River Project. The spawning study is part of a 10-year collaboration with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to better understand the relationship between river flow and the rainbow trout population and their spawning habitat from Monroe Street Dam downstream to Nine Mile Dam.

In each of the last two years, in partnership with WDFW, we’ve captured and tagged more than 800 rainbow trout in the river below the Monroe Street Dam downstream to the Nine Mile Reservoir. This part of the 10-year study is to understand how many trout are in the Spokane River and the habitat they use. We will capture and tag rainbow trout again this October.

A similar project has been in effect for several years in the Upper Spokane River, and we hope this project will help us better understand how managing river flows affects water levels in Lake Coeur d’Alene and habitat for rainbow trout downstream. By doing so, we hope to ultimately encourage growth of the rainbow trout population in the Spokane River.

Both of these projects show how Avista works with others to care for the natural resources affected by our projects. They are great examples of how we make our commitment to environment part of our daily operations throughout Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
Published: 5/11/2012  10:41 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

May 11 , 2012
slideshow

Post by Brandi Smith

Aesthetic flows in Spokane River
Avista’s work on the Spokane River aesthetic flows project was completed in October of 2011. The project took place in the river in downtown Spokane and received a lot of attention from curious onlookers last summer.

The reason behind the project wasn’t just about looks, as the name suggests. While the overall goal was to create a cascading waterfall effect through the channels of the Spokane River that run north and south of Canada Island, the work was related to the aesthetic spills requirement of our Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license.

In 2009, Avista was issued a new 50-year license by FERC to operate our five hydroelectric dams on the Spokane River (Post Falls, Upper Falls, Monroe Street, Nine Mile and Long Lake). The purpose of the aesthetic flows project was to return the river’s channels to a more natural state, the way they were before early developers in Spokane cut into the bedrock to divert water during dry times.

Weirs, which are concrete structures, were installed in the riverbed to divert water. Before construction on the project began, Avista brought together several stakeholder groups, including the Washington Department of Ecology, The Sierra Club, and others, to take part in a pilot test for the project using sandbags as temporary weirs to divert the water. The feedback we received helped us determine the placement for the permanent weirs.

Land Expressions LLC, was awarded the contact and did an outstanding job constructing the weirs to match the natural basalt bedrock as much as possible, including consideration for the existing terrain’s texture and color.

In addition to providing aesthetic attributes, the project will accommodate fish passage at various water flow levels that are determined by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Ecology. During the project, fish biologists and contractors were on site, relocating fish safely downstream due to the river flow being temporarily stopped while the weirs are constructed.

Now that the project is complete, water flows more evenly throughout the two channels of the river and produces a more pleasing flow of water through Riverfront Park. This time of year the work isn’t too noticeable because flows are so high, but come summer time, take a stroll through Riverfront Park and check out the river’s new look.
Published: 5/11/2012  10:30 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

May 09 , 2012
Avista is working to improve paths and viewing points along the Spokane River

Riverfront Park footbridge
Pedestrians can still access the suspension bridge to
get some great views of the Spokane River, however
the south entrance of the bridge near the Upper Falls
powerhouse will be closed for construction.
New viewing platform on Spokane River
Later this summer, Riverfront Park visitors will also
have a new east-facing viewing platform to take in
the beautiful Spokane River.
Viewing area, looking east
The footbridge near the viewing platform will be open
to pedestrians during Memorial Day weekend.
Beginning this week, Riverfront Park visitors in downtown Spokane will be detoured away from the south end of the suspension bridge by Avista’s Upper Falls Dam powerhouse.

For the next four weeks, Avista is working on a project to improve the deteriorated asphalt roadway and powerhouse parking area. The asphalt roadway will be repaved with asphalt, concrete will be installed in front of the powerhouse, and reinforced turf and porous pavers and grass will be installed in this area. These improvements will improve access to the powerhouse and will make for an easier, safer trek for pedestrians crossing the bridge.

You can still enjoy the great views on the bridge by accessing it from the north side of Canada Island; you just can’t cross the bridge on the south end until the work is complete. The nearest river crossing in the park is Howard Street Bridge, just east of the suspension bridge by the Upper Falls Powerhouse. Signs will be posted to redirect park users.

Safety is a top priority at Avista. During our project, you may see workers, cranes, and other construction equipment in the area. For your safety, please obey posted signs and stay out of fenced-off areas.

New viewing platform
Later this summer, Riverfront Park visitors will also have a new east-facing viewing platform to take in the beautiful Spokane River. Avista constructed the viewing platform last fall so we could access the Upper Falls Dam for maintenance and upgrades. This spring, we’re working on the east end of Havermale Island to complete paving of the area. Spokane City Parks and Recreation will take it from there to put in plants and vegetation.

The footbridge near the viewing platform will be open to pedestrians during Memorial Day weekend.

The work we’re doing will improve pedestrian access and aesthetics at Riverfront Park.
Published: 5/9/2012  9:05 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Apr 13 , 2012

Spokane River

The spring runoff season is just beginning, and can create dangerous river flows and lake levels. Stay safe by staying out of the water during high flows.

Post by Anna Scarlett

The high river flows and lake levels we saw in the first week of April brought breathtaking views at our area dams along with water over some parts of our roads and trails. This may have you thinking we’re well into the spring runoff season. But the fact is what we saw earlier this month was just a preview of what’s to come.

An abundance of early spring rain rapidly increased the flow of water into Coeur d’Alene Lake, and from there, into the Spokane River in the last days of March and early part of April. The Spokane River peaked on April 3 with nearly 28,000 cubic feet per second flowing through downtown Spokane, while Coeur d’Alene Lake peaked at just over 2,131 feet above sea level, or about 3 feet above its normal summer level. Since then, river and lake levels have gradually fallen, remaining fairly steady for the last few days.

Today (April 13), they’re starting to rise slightly again – and we’re likely in for a couple  more months of high waters. Due to higher than normal seasonal snowpack (as of Friday April 13, it’s still at 108 percent of normal), and warmer expected temperatures in addition to the heavy rainfall we’ve already received, the National Weather Service is predicting above average river flows in the area in the coming months.

Safety is a top priority at Avista. So as warmer, sunny days draw you to the water, we want to remind you that Coeur d’Alene Lake and the downstream river and reservoir levels can change rapidly at any time, due to weather and other factors. Please use caution on the water and comply with all posted notices and closures, especially near the vicinity of hydroelectric facilities, and always wear your life jacket when on the water.

Property owners and lake users – remember to make necessary preparations, including removing boats from the water, and removing or securing docks and boathouses to accommodate changing water conditions.

When recreating on or along a river or reservoir, always follow these important safety tips:

• Always be alert for debris, obstructions, and partially submerged objects.
• Always obey warning signs near dams.
• Never cross boater restraining cables or buoy lines that designate areas where boats should not operate.
• Never fish, swim or boat above or below a dam - water levels can change rapidly with little warning due to operation of spill gates and turbines.
• If in a sailboat or catamaran, always look for overhead cables and power lines.
• Always wear personal flotation devices (PFDs), even if you are an adult.
• Never operate watercraft under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
• When on the water, obey all warning signs and follow all rules and regulations.

Remember rivers and streams are at their peak flows during spring and early summer. For more safety information, visit http://www.avistautilities.com/safety/dams.

Access water level information 24 hours a day
Avista has a 24-hour telephone information line that provides notification of anticipated changes on Lake Spokane, the Spokane River and Coeur d’Alene Lake.

In Washington call 509-495-8043; in Idaho, call 208-769-1357.

The recorded information line advises shoreline property owners, commercial and recreational users of changes in the lake and river elevation levels that may affect plans for water use. You can also check current river and lake levels on our website at http://www.avistautilities.com, keyword search “weather and water.”
 
LEARN MORE:
 
Published: 4/13/2012  4:19 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Apr 13 , 2012
Wind and solar get the renewable headlines, but what about biomass and hydro?

Post by Dan Kolbet

Renewable Energy
At Avista we like to say that we were founded on renewable hydroelectricity. We’re proud of it. Even today the biggest resource percentage of generated or purchased power comes from hydroelectricity. Yet nationally, renewable energy tends to be framed around wind, solar and sometimes biomass and hydro. Where does Avista, biomass, hydroelectricity and your power fit in the renewable discussion?

Let’s start with hydroelectricity. Unlike much of the country, the Northwest benefits from having abundant hydroelectric resources. It’s good for all of us, because it’s in our backyard. It’s pretty tough to get a new hydroelectric project started in the United States, so the growth in this area generally comes from modernizing generation to make it more efficient. For the past decade or more we’ve been doing just that on the Clark Fork River at our Noxon Rapids and Cabinet Gorge dams.

Some of our hydroelectric dams on the Spokane River are more than 100 years old, and since we need to keep those dams running responsibly and reliably, we’re always looking for ways to improve them. This year, we’re looking at upgrading parts of our Post Falls and Little Falls hydroelectric facilities. There’s no doubt about it, hydroelectricity is an important renewable resource.

Biomass is another example of renewable energy that doesn’t get much of the spotlight. Avista’s Kettle Falls biomass plant was the first electric generating station of its kind constructed within the United States for the sole purpose of producing electricity from wood waste. It opened in October of 1983 – roughly 29 year ago. That’s a long history of renewable generation. Beginning in 2016 Washington will officially recognize its operations as a renewable resource for the purposes of meeting Washington state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).

Now for the hip, cool kids – wind and solar.

Solar panels
A small solar array is affixed to the top of our
corporate headquarters today. It helps offset the
power we use to charge the
Avista Sun Car.
Let’s talk solar first. Sure, the sun is free, but equipment involved in generating and delivering that power to the grid isn’t free - not by a long shot. In our area, given our other resources (like hydro), utility scale solar power isn’t in the cards, at least not today. We’re always on the lookout for proven resources, so that may change in the future, in fact a small solar array is affixed to the top of our corporate headquarters today. It helps offset the power we use to charge the Avista Sun Car.

Last, but certainly not least in this renewable roundup, is wind. Today Avista doesn’t generate any of its own power via wind, yet we’ve had a long-standing contract to buy wind power from the Stateline Wind Project on the Washington/Oregon border. Soon a new wind farm called Palouse Wind will come online near the town of Oakesdale and State Route 195 on the hills surrounding Naff Ridge. The project is being developed by First Wind, but Avista has secured the rights to its electrical output for next 30 years. Avista has been thinking about how to incorporate wind into our generation mix for several years, so it’s certainly on our minds.

As you can see, from hydro to biomass, and wind to (a little) solar, we’re all over this renewable thing.

For another look at Avista’s power generation and planning for the future, check out our Electric Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). The IRP analyzes and outlines a strategy to meet projected demand and renewable portfolio standards through energy efficiency and a careful mix of qualifying renewable and traditional energy resources

Renewable energy and you
Avista launched a Buck-A-Block voluntary rate program for customers in 2002. The program is still going strong today with thousands of megawatt hours of emission-free wind being purchased annually. Nearly 4,000 customers participate. When you sign up for Buck-A-Block, you make a voluntary payment above and beyond your normal rates. Avista makes no profit from that additional money, which goes to support the renewable energy many of our customers prefer by purchasing environmental offsets from renewable energy generation.
Published: 4/13/2012  12:31 PM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

Apr 06 , 2012
River runoff
 
Post by Dan Kolbet 
Video by Brandi Smith
The spill gates at our Post Falls Dam are roaring today as seen in this quickie video posted to our Facebook page. Best advice: Stay out of the river in high water. Safety first people!

There was a river rescue earlier today near Gonzaga. According to a Spokesman-Review story posted today, "[Spokane] officials warn that no one, especially children, should go in the river. People also are advised to stay away from flooded bike and walking paths along the river."
 
Published: 4/6/2012  11:36 AM | 0  Comments | 0  Links to this post

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