Lake Shrinks, Mudflats Grow

By Tom Bacon

Drivers going back and forth over the Spokane River bridge at Lake Coeur d' Alene probably think they're seeing more extensive mudflats at the river mouth. It's not their imagination. Moreover, those mudflats may expand.

Commuters and truckers may count themselves lucky that they haven't had to deal with snow-and-ice-covered roads this winter so far. But there's a downside. Lake Coeur d' Alene is lower than usual because of skimpy  rain and snowfall in the rivers that feed it.

It's been a remarkably dry fall and winter thus far. Katherine Rowden of the national weather service said "the low lake level is a natural by-product of lack of rain or snow melt in the watershed".

Lake Coeur d' Alene is approaching a low mark of about 2,121 feet set in 2005. On december 23rd this year, the level was 2,122 and a few inches, and it may drop to under 2,121 feet by the middle of this month. The Coeur d' Alene River at Cataldo and the Saint Joe both have low levels and paltry discharge rates right now.

Avista Corporation, which operates the Spokane River dam at Post Falls, starts drawing down the lake level gradually each fall. But this year the water level has continued to drop because of the lack of replenishing water from upstream.

Rowden put it this way - without more precipitation, rain or snow, in the Coeur d' Alene basin we'll see the lake continue to drop through the winter. And that can spell trouble come summer.
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