Readers of the pack

Snohomish County PUD officials were buzzing around the mountains above Sultan on Sunday to find out how much snow fell this past winter.

Each year around April 1 the Public Utility District surveys the snowpack to find out how much water it can expect to run through Jackson Hydroelectric Project’s four turbines during the summer.

By projecting how much water they have, PUD officials can better manage how they operate the generator.

During some parts of the year the PUD wants the generator to produce as much electricity as possible, while at other times it wants to lower production when there isn’t a strong market for the power. Ultimately, knowing how much water it will have to work with helps to stabilize electricity rates.

Measuring the snowpack each year is also important to Everett, which uses the water to supply 450,000 Snohomish County residents with water.

The generator’s turbines are fed by water that drains into Spada Lake, the basin for more than 150 inches of snow and rain that usually falls in the Sultan Basin each year, a precipitation rate so prolific that the basin is one of the wettest in the United States.

Early clues about this year’s precipitation suggest more snow than usual fell.

"I don’t know what to expect until I see the numbers, but given the reports I’ve been given, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s above average," said Bruce Meaker, the PUD’s senior manager of regulatory affairs.

The PUD researchers made three stops around the basin on Sunday, the same three spots that have measured since 1986. They used measurements at 10 different sites to find out how deep the snow is and how much moisture is in it.

In past years, the PUD findings have ranged from bare ground to as much as 165 inches of snow.

Meaker said the PUD relies on the snowpack information to allow it to generate as much power as possible while making sure there’s enough water to keep the Sultan River flowing all summer, to make sure Everett has the water it needs and to keep Spada Lake full for recreation.

Everett supplies 85 million gallons of water to residents, business and industry within its boundaries and at several of the surrounding cities, said Tom Thetford, the city’s utilities director.

The city gets all of its water from the Sultan Basin and Spada Lake.

The city has never come close to running out of water since it joined with the PUD to build Culmback Dam in the 1980s. The dam allows Spada Lake to hold 50 billion gallons of water while also allowing water to be diverted through the PUD’s Jackson Hydroelectric Project.

Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or

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