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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

Snow in the Mountains

by Carol Mack

Compared to most of the east side of the state, Pend Oreille County is precipitation-rich. The average annual rainfall at Boundary Dam is 27.65 inches, while the Spokane airport only receives 16.06 inches per year, according to the Western Regional Climate Center. The catch is that, like much of the western United States, there is a season for rain and a season for drought. We are helped through our dry season by that natural phenomenon known as the water cycle. Like money deposited in a bank, precipitation is deposited in the mountains during the cold, wet season. Warm weather starts the melting process, and gravity brings it downhill, right to our door. Wetland areas (like Indian Meadows) serve as reservoirs, absorbing water like a sponge and doling it out steadily during dry times.

So how much water will be flowing toward us this summer? Do we have enough in our mountain bank account to supply our needs --- and also keep in-stream flows adequate for fish and other water-dependent wildlife? The snow-depositing season is not over yet. But so far, our high-elevation bank balance is running way below average and we may be facing a season of unusually short supply. Many residents in the Little Spokane watershed are familiar with the "stop-watering" notices mailed in low-flow years and are experts at making each drop of water count. However, even in areas where water supply may seem abundant, conservation measures still pay off big for wildlife -- the less we withdraw from the groundwater supply, the more there is to recharge streams and other surface water on down the hill. This may be a good spring to study water wise landscaping techniques, install water-conserving plumbing, conserve on water -generated electricity, and leave as much water as we can for the animals. Somewhere downstream...a fish or frog will thank us.

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