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Northwest hydropower output surges amid unseasonably warm weather

Aprilhydroelectric power production surged above historical averages in the PacificNorthwest as warm weather depleted much of the region's snowpack.

Evenas the region experienced below-normal precipitation, data from the U.S. ArmyCorps of Engineers show that total net generation at 23 hydroelectric plantsacross the Pacific Northwest was 41.9% above the year-ago level and 18.4% abovethe 12-year average as it reached 8.03 million MWh. That figure is up 2.1% fromMarch.

Year-to-datehydropower production through April totaled 27.93 million MWh, down 4.6% versusthe year-ago level but up 9.9% from the 12-year average for the period.

Inthe upper Columbia River Basin, the Grand Coulee Dam, the largest of the region, generated2.05 million MWh, up 27.9% and 12.9%, respectively, versus the year-ago monthand the 12-year average for the period. The Chief Joseph Dam generated 1.18 million MWh, up25.4% and 15.2% versus April 2015 and the 12-year average for the month,respectively.

Meanwhile,April flows in the lower Columbia River Basin were higher versus historicalaverages. Located on the Washington-Oregon border, the Dam produced 497,625MWh, up 63.8% versus April 2015 and 20.8% higher versus the 12-year average forthe month. The DallesDam, 50 miles downstream, produced 750,300 MWh, up 45.7% from the year-agomonth and up 23.8% from the 12-year average for April.

Duringa May 5 presentation on the region's water supply, Northwest River ForecastCenter senior hydrologist Kevin Berghoff noted a more rapid depletion of thearea's snowpack during the month as the region experienced temperatures thatwere from 3 degrees F to more than 6 degrees F above normal. Even so, snowpackremains healthy relative to year-ago levels.

Accordingto data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource ConservationService, Lower Columbia River basin snowpack on May 7 was 56% of the median,compared to a year-ago level of 6% of the median. Upper and lower Yakima Riverbasin snowpack was at 55% and 76% of the median, respectively, compared toyear-ago levels of 0% and 16% of the median. Lower Snake River basin snowpackwas 64% of the median, compared to the year-ago level of 45% of the median.

ForApril to September, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationpredicts near-normal runoff conditions across the Columbia River basin andcoastal drainages. Forecasts issued May 4 for the upper Columbia River basinproject that water supply will be 100% of normal at the Grand Coulee Dam whileat the Lower GraniteDam, water supply will be 91% of normal.