May 11 , 2012
Spokane River and Clark Fork River work targets fish survival, habitat and doing the right thing
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.
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.
May 11 , 2012
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.
May 09 , 2012
Avista is working to improve paths and viewing points along the Spokane River
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.
Later this summer, Riverfront Park visitors will also
have a new east-facing viewing platform to take in
the beautiful Spokane River.
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.
Apr 17 , 2012
You may have seen the above image in newspapers recently. It’s PJ, a Mechanical Engineer at Avista. The ad is part of an educational campaign about renewables in our region. Last month we focused on reliability.
Customers like you are being asked to go to www.avistautilities.com/renewable
to see a collection of blog posts (yes, from this blog you are reading) that focus on renewables. The first blog post, “Renewable energy: where to start” [LINK] frames the renewable conversation for our region. The other blog posts showcase work at Noxon; our biomass plant, Kettle Falls; and Palouse Wind, the under-construction wind farm near Oakesdale.
This effort is intended to encourage understanding and discussions with you and about reliability, renewable energy and the environment. Look for new blog posts and advertisements in May regarding the environment.
Apr 13 , 2012
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.”
Apr 13 , 2012
Wind and solar get the renewable headlines, but what about biomass and hydro?
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.
|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.
Apr 13 , 2012
Four-year, $45 million upgrade nearing completion at Avista’s largest hydroelectric dam
In February Avista’s Noxon Rapids hydroelectric project, which generates clean, renewable energy reached a big milestone when the last of four original turbines to be replaced was installed. The four-unit, $45 million project started in July 2008 and is on schedule to be finished by spring 2012.
The upgraded units are expected to increase the total generating capacity of the dam by an estimated 30 megawatts. The upgrades enhance Avista’s ability to serve our customers because it lets us generate more power using the same amount of water – enough energy, in fact, to power more than 4,800 homes, or a town nearly the same size as Rathdrum, Idaho. Another benefit: this additional energy qualifies under Washington State’s Energy Independence Act (RCW 19.285) to meet Avista’s Washington state-mandated renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requirements.
Avista continues to generate or purchase about half of our energy with hydroelectric power. Investing in our hydroelectric dams makes good sense – some of them are more than 100 years old – and it’s a continual process.
You can sense a pride of ownership from the crew featured in the above video. Many of these employees, who worked to remove and replace the old turbine, have been working on hydroelectric generation projects for many years. When the Noxon Rapids work is complete, these employees will move onto other projects, but their legacy will live on in the additional energy they helped produce.
Apr 06 , 2012
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."
Mar 27 , 2012
An inside look at how Avista gathers information about snowpack
Avista owns and operates eight hydroelectric
dams on the Clark Fork and Spokane rivers.
These facilities, together with long term hydro
contracts, make up about half of the total
electric resources available to serve our
Skiers may prefer light and fluffy snow, but heavy and wet snow contributes more to our water supply in the Northwest. Avista counts on water to generate hydropower for our customers. Every year, Avista evaluates snowpack information in the mountains to get an idea of what spring runoff may be like at our dams on the Spokane and Clark Fork rivers. Only a select few get to see this evaluation process up close, so we took a video camera up the mountain to get you a special look at snowpack measurement.
Avista rents snowmobiles so employees can get as close to the snowpack measurement site as possible. Snow depth is measured by pushing an aluminum tube down through the snowpack and all the way down to ground surface. Both the depth and weight of the snow is recorded. An average of all samples taken is calculated and used to represent the snowpack measurement site.
Avista measures 10 sites at Roland Summit in the Lolo National Forest, which is located near the Hiawatha Trail. Once the data is collected, the Hydro Engineering team submits the data to the National Resources Conservation Service who is largely responsible for providing Avista and many other interested parties with reliable water supply forecasts.
The more gradual the snowmelt, the more Avista can maximize that water running through its dams. However, you never know what Mother-Nature is going to do. Regardless, our customers can count on Avista to make the most out of this precious resource in an efficient, reliable and environmentally-responsible way.
If you have questions about lake and river levels, please visit our website
Mar 02 , 2012
Crews reflect on work while installing finishing touches on four-year, $45 million project
An Avista employee signs Unit 4’s new turbine with
a paint pen prior to its insertion at Noxon Rapids
Dam. They don’t usually autograph their work in this
way, but the project has lasted four years and this
was the last new turbine installed at Noxon, so the
crew wanted to mark the occasion.
It’s a complicated job to turn water, wind, natural gas, coal, or even sunshine into reliable energy. It takes a lot of people and equipment and it doesn’t come free. In fact, about 60 cents of every dollar you pay each month in your electric bill is simply the cost of power, whether it’s power Avista generates at our plants or power we buy on the market.
Avista continues to generate or purchase about half of our energy with hydroelectric power, one of the cleanest, most dependable and most cost-effective energy resources. Investing in our hydroelectric dams makes good sense – some of them are more than 100 years old – and it’s a continual process.
In the case of Noxon Rapids, Avista’s largest hydroelectric dam, in 2012 we’ll be wrapping up our four-year, $45 million project to upgrade all four original generating units, which were installed in the late 1950s, with new turbines. The result? We can make more energy using the same amount of water – enough energy, in fact, to power more than 4,800 homes, or a town nearly the same size as Rathdrum, Idaho. Another benefit: this additional energy qualifies under Washington State’s Energy Independence Act (RCW 19.285) to meet Avista’s Washington state-mandated renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requirements.
The new turbines boast features such as smooth edges and corners and a stainless steel body that weighs just 65 tons (as opposed to the old turbines, massive beasts that weighed around 120 tons.) Removing the old turbines and installing the new ones took thousands of hours of skilled labor and craftsmanship, and many of the crew members have been involved throughout the entire project. Watch the final turbine being installed at Noxon Rapids, and hear from some of the folks that helped make it happen. These are your energy dollars at work.
Watch an interview with project engineer P.J. Henscheid as the old Unit 4 turbine is removed back in fall 2011.