Lake Coeur d'Alene Gorges on Rain and Snowmelt

By Tom Bacon

It's been an up and down winter for Lake Coeur d' Alene. This week, it's up, way up.

Back in January and part of February, Lake Coeur d' Alene had dropped to levels close to record lows set more than a hundred years ago, in 1904, 1905 and 1906. There seemed to be more mud than water where the Spokane River starts, and water flows in the river itself were sluggish. But not any more.

As of this week, the lake level has zoomed up to 2,128 feet above sea level, the normal summertime bank-full mark, and it's projected to keep rising another three feet by the end of the week. The reason? Heavy and persistent rain and rapid snowmelt in the Saint Joe and Coeur d' Alene river basins, both caused by a vigorous Pineapple Express streaming in from the southwest Pacific Ocean.

Both rivers have swollen to flood stage, prompting the National Weather Service to issue flood warnings effective until Wednesday. The Coeur d' Alene River at Cataldo and the Saint Joe at Saint Maries are possible trouble spots. Forecasters also cautioned that the water is dangerously cold, and may be pushing logs and other large debris.

A senior hydro engineer for Avista said the Post Falls dam is passing through a lot of water right now, about 17-thousand-500 cubic feet per second. But he said the rivers feeding the lake are discharging about 50-thousand cubic feet per second.

During winter months, the dam plays no part in regulating the lake level. The outfall is all natural - engineers call it "free flow."
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