The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) said April 20 that it is expecting a more normal water year after it implemented dry-year operations in 2015.
Record-setting precipitation in December and a wet March together helped boost this year’s water supply forecast, BPA said in a news release.
The April 19 water supply forecast for January through July is 105.7 million acre-feet, or 104% of normal. The report is produced by the Northwest River Forecast Center, based on water volume measured at The Dalles Dam.
“One major difference we see this year is a more normal and evenly distributed snowpack in the Columbia Basin compared to last year,” said Erik Pytlak, manager of the Weather and Streamflow Forecasting group in BPA Power Services. “Snowpack is what feeds the system’s spring and summer runoff, so it’s important to BPA to have good snowpack by this time of year.”
With the approaching runoff, there’s a chance BPA might need to use its oversupply management protocol this year should oversupply conditions arise. This protocol was last used in 2012. Oversupply occurs when a rare combination of factors comes together: low energy demand; an abundance of water; high hydroelectric generation; and operational limitations on the amount of water that can be spilled, or passed through the dams, to protect fish.
It has also been a rather warm winter, not only in the Pacific Northwest but across the United States. The warmer weather has been linked to lower demand for natural gas and this year’s decline in natural gas prices. These lower prices have driven down the price of BPA’s surplus power in the electricity market. That has reduced BPA’s surplus power sales outlook this year. Surplus power sales are used to keep BPA rates lower than they would have been otherwise.
On the bright side, the amount of water in Columbia River Treaty storage dams, including those in Canada, is recovering from the additional water releases made last spring and summer to offset low stream-flow conditions.
Portland-based BPA is a nonprofit federal power marketer that sells wholesale electricity from 31 federal dams and one nuclear plant to 142 electric utilities, serving millions of consumers and businesses in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana and parts of California, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.