Enough water for 600,000 people: Snowpack looks good

The annual measurement in the mountains has proven to be an important forecasting tool.

SULTAN — Not bad. Not bad at all.

After a few timely pokes into the snowpack and some calculations and analysis, the verdict is in: There is plenty of mountain snow to feed rivers in Snohomish County’s Sultan Basin through the summer.

An annual snowpack survey done each spring has proven to be an important forecast tool for both the drinking water and locally produced power supply.

The snowpack measurements were taken last week when a small team of Snohomish County PUD employees flew by helicopter into the basin around Spada Lake. As has been the case since 1986, measurements were taken at three elevations: 2,400 feet at Kromona Mine, 3,300 feet on Olney Ridge and 3,600 feet on Stickney Ridge.

The snow depth across those sites was 160 percent of the average, while the water content was slightly below average at 92 percent.

“This is all good news,” said Scott Spahr, manager of generation engineering for the PUD.

The hopscotching around the basin tells PUD engineers how much power the utility can generate while ensuring the city of Everett meets drinking water needs for most of Snohomish County.

“The water supply outlook is very good,” said Jim Miller, engineering superintendent for the city public works department. “This means there is enough water for the 600,000 people the city supplies for the rest of the year.”

The Sultan Basin provides water for roughly 80 percent of the county’s population. The PUD produces about 5 percent of its power from the Jackson Hydroelectric Project, which is downstream from the dam on the Sultan River. It gets most of the rest of its power from the Bonneville Power Administration.

A wet year with a healthy snowpack means less buying off the market, Spahr said.

Experts use a long hollow tube marked with feet and inches to determine the snow depth. They pull it out and weigh it with a hand-held scale to determine how much water is in the snow. They found the density this year was a little bit below average.

The snow pack at Stickney Ridge measured 144.5 inches.

That offered a stark contrast to 2015 when the ridges were bare.

“The same site we measured over 12 feet of snow at Stickney Ridge this year had no snow in 2015,” Spahr said.

Eric Stevick: 425-33-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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