Boaters can expect higher water levels this spring than in recent years at Brownlee Reservoir because water managers are expecting lower-than-usual space needed for flood control.
If less snow runoff and higher reservoir levels seems contradictory, there's a simple explanation.
The dam is owned by Idaho Power and managed for power generation, and also flood control under direction from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Less reservoir storage for flood control is needed because of lower-than-average snowpack in key Idaho drainages, including the Boise and Payette rivers.
That means Idaho Power can maintain Brownlee's reservoir levels higher during spring while staying within flood-control targets set by the Army Corps.
The reservoir level was 21 feet below full pool on March 19. Idaho Power expects Brownlee to remain near current levels, or higher, for the remainder of the flood-control season in spring and early summer.
At the current reservoir levels, all boat ramps except those at Holcomb Park and the Spring Recreation site are accessible. Conditions may change, depending on snow melt.
By law, the 58-mile-long reservoir behind Brownlee Dam is operated to help manage flood risk in the lower Columbia River, and if needed, regulate flows in the lower Snake River. The reservoir collects snow runoff from as far away as Wyoming.
In recent years when spring runoff was higher, the Army Corps required Idaho Power to draw down the reservoir lower in late winter to accommodate the high inflows.
Information from the Natural Resources Conservation Service for March showed that projected snow runoff in the Snake Basin above Palisades Reservoir is at 88 percent of normal, and the Payette and Boise drainages are at 79 and 72 percent of normal.
In addition to power generation and flood control, Brownlee Reservoir is a favorite spot for campers, boaters and anglers, especially during spring.
Idaho Power owns and operates three popular campgrounds in Hells Canyon, and manages other recreation areas there.