SULTAN — Snowpack up in the Sultan River Basin has returned almost to normal this year.
That’s a vast improvement over last year, when a crew from the Snohomish County Public Utility District found no measurable snow at all at three sites in the mountains around Spada Lake reservoir.
The crew measured snowpack on Tuesday at three sites which, when averaged together, came to about 78 percent of what’s considered normal for this time of year.
“It’s a big improvement, but again, it’s less than normal,” said Mark Flury, the principal engineer for the utility’s generation division.
But slightly-under-average snow means that the utility and the city of Everett aren’t too worried about the coming summer.
Everett uses Spada Lake as its primary source of drinking water.
“For us, storage right now is 114 percent of normal. We’re feeling pretty good going into the season,” said Marla Carter, a spokeswoman for the city’s public works department.
“Much different story than last year,” she said.
A hot dry summer in 2015, coupled with the lack of snowpack earlier in the year, caused the city to activate its drought response plan for the first time. The city called on residents to reduce their water use by 10 percent.
That move was very successful, Carter said. City water customers continued meeting the 10 percent goal well into December, months after the drought advisory was lifted.
“I think it had raised people’s awareness and they were being conscious of how they were using water,” Carter said.
On Tuesday, the PUD crew took snow core samples at the same three sites as last year: Kromona Mine (elevation 2,400 feet), Olney Ridge (3,300 feet) and Stickney Ridge (3,600 feet).
Kromona Mine was the driest location, with 27.7 inches of snow, or about 52 percent of the average amount since the utility began measuring snowpack in 1986.
That measurement was what brought the average snowpack level of all three sample sites down to 78 percent of normal, Flury said.
At the higher elevations, the utility crew measured 49.3 inches at Olney Ridge, 94 percent of the historical average, and 86.8 inches at Stickney Ridge, which was 88 percent of normal, Flury said.
The crew also measured the amount of water in the snow, which provides a useful guide as to how much water can be expected to melt into the lake over the spring and summer.
The water content was very close to average at all three sites this year, Flury said.
Last year’s lack of snowpack was a major concern that caused the utility to cut back on drawing water for electricity at the Jackson Hydroelectric Project. In drought conditions, the utility can only use water for power generation if the water is already being sent to the city or being released into the Sultan River to maintain flows for salmon.
The autumn storms returned things to normal at the dam, Flury said.
“We had a big rebound in September and we had an extremely wet winter,” he said.
That allowed for 133 percent of normal power generation over the past four months, he said.
“We don’t have any concerns that this is going to be an abnormal year at this point,” Flury said.