Dry winter leads to slower lake refill

It may have been a beautiful, dry winter for the Pacific Northwest, but residents of Lake Tapps may pay the price as low flows in the White River will most likely prevent the lake from reaching recreation levels by the April 15 date promised as part of an agreement with the homeowner’s associations.

“It all depends now on rain conditions,” said Cascade Water Alliance Chief Executive Officer Chuck Clarke. “Flows in the river are down.”

Clarke said he does not expect the lake to be full until early May.

Clarke said the lake, which is drained and filled each year, was drawn down to a low of 529 feet above sea level this year so work could be completed on some of the dikes that hold the water and that refilling efforts started strong, but have dwindled in recent weeks.

“Then what happened is the weather got nice,” Clarke said.

Clarke estimated the lake is presently stalled at approximately 535.5 feet and it is unclear whether it will reach the recreational level of 541 feet by the April 15 deadline.

“It was coming up pretty good until a week ago Sunday,” said Leon Stucki, longtime lake resident and vice president of the Lake Tapps Community Council.

Clarke said there was little run-off so far this spring and snowpack levels are at 30 to 40 percent of normal, contributing to the slow fill. However, while he said he was “concerned,” he said he was also confident about refilling if the region gets “any semblance of normal weather conditions.”

In addition to the weather, agreements with the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the Muckleshoot Tribe require Cascade to maintain river flows of 725 cubic feet per second, which is not a problem in a normal year when flows average between 1,000 and 2,000 cfs. But this past week, the gages topped out at 725 cubic feet, preventing Cascade from diverting any water to the lake.

Stucki said he does not fault Cascade for the low water levels.

“I know they are really trying,” he said. “They’ve got themselves in a terrible bind, though.”

Clarke said this was not the way Cascade hoped its first year in charge of the lake would go and said in the future, the lake may not be drawn down quite as far.

“In the future rather than draining it to 530 (feet), the typical level in the fall could be about where it is now,” Clarke said.

Clarke also said with the shift in weather patterns that moved in Thursday, additional rains may increase Cascade’s ability to divert water to the lake and get it filled before his may prediction.

“We get a lot of rain, we’ll fill it earlier,” he said.