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Spring in your step: freshet comes earlier than normal

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
May 15th, 2024

Spring has sprung earlier than usual on Kootenay Lake, according to the board that controls the lake’s level.

The International Kootenay Lake Board of Control (IKLBC) has declared the “commencement of the spring rise” on Kootenay Lake as of April 16, the earliest it has occurred in seven years, and two weeks earlier than 2023.

There has been sustained higher temperatures at higher elevations, and high temperatures are expected again in the medium-term forecast, noted a release from the Board of Control.

“The local snowpack has shown signs of melting and a recent increase in Kootenay River flow has been observed,” the release indicated.

The proclamation — issued after consultation with FortisBC — for purposes defined in the 1938 International Joint Commission Order on Kootenay Lake, stated that the maximum allowable level of Kootenay Lake will now be calculated based on the “lowering formula defined in the Order until the lake returns to an elevation of 1,743.32 feet as measured at Nelson … on the recession limb of the snowmelt hydrograph (sometime in the summer).”

Reaching the threshold will mark the end of the freshet period for the Kootenay Lake basin.

Measuring tape

At the time of declaration, the level of Kootenay Lake at Queen’s Bay was 1739.29 feet (530.14 metres), according to figures released from the board of control.

“Kootenay Lake inflow was 22,800 cubic feet per second and is forecast to continue increasing for the next month,” the IKLBC release noted.

Kootenay Lake at Queen’s Bay reached its minimum daily average elevation of 1,739.22 feet (530.11 meters) for the year on April 13-14, 2024.

Spring has sprung

The spring freshet has begun, according to the International Kootenay Lake Board of Control.

Despite a low snowpack — currently sitting at 72 per cent of normal in the West Kootenay —through the first three months of 2024, FortisBC “remains in compliance with the IJC Order of Approval for Kootenay Lake and is prepared for the beginning of the spring freshet,” said Martin Suchy, Canadian secretary for the International Kootenay Lake Board of Control (IKLBC).

He said the late winter and early spring hydrological conditions in the Kootenay Lake watershed are shown to be below average this year.

Suchy said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is reporting similar percentages across the region, at 82 per cent of the 30-year period of record normal in the Kootenai Basin.

 

In Control

The International Kootenay Lake Board of Control oversees the operation of Corra Linn Dam to manage water levels in Kootenay Lake, while Fortis BC is the dam’s owner/operator.

This year’s board and public meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, May 22. The public meeting will be held at 6:30-8 p.m. (PDT) in Bonners Ferry, Idaho with a virtual option. Virtual registration can be found here.

The web-based Kootenay Lake visualization tool is available for people to investigate Kootenay Lake conditions in dry, normal and wet years. The link is here.

By the numbers

Information on the IJC 1938 Order of Approval for Kootenay Lake can be found here (the lowering formula is referenced on page four in item 2, part 6).

Real-time Kootenay Lake levels can be found at the FortisBC website.

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