Flathead Lake refill launches early due to low snowpack

March 28, 2019

The tribal-owned corporation managing the former Kerr Dam hydroelectric project reported Wednesday it started refilling Flathead Lake on March 10, more than one month ahead of schedule.

Mariah Friedlander, a spokeswoman for Energy Keepers Inc., a corporation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, acknowledged that the seasonal refill started earlier than usual because of a lower than normal snowpack and anticipated impacts on inflows to Flathead Lake.

Energy Keepers reported the lake’s current elevation is about 2884.5 feet and slowly filling.

Typically, operators of the Selis Ksanka Qlispe Dam allow Flathead Lake’s level to rise during the summer to support recreational use. Then, Energy Keepers begins to draw down the lake in winter to help reduce storm-related lakeshore erosion and to prepare for the inflow of spring runoff.

Energy Keepers noted the current snow-water equivalent in the Flathead River Basin is about 83 percent of normal. And it advised the Northwest River Forecast Center predicts water supply volumes for March and April will be about 56 percent and 54 percent of normal, respectively.

“With below average snowpack and water supply forecasts, the SKQ project will operate at minimums until further notice,” Energy Keepers reported.

Energy Keepers said Flathead Lake inflows are about 4,800 cubic feet per second and SKQ project outflows are about 3,300 cubic feet per second.

“The current operational strategy is to have Flathead Lake in the top foot of its operating range in time for summer recreation,” Energy Keepers said.