Army Corps of Engineers: Low Lake Washington water levels may limit boat traffic

Sep 13, 2023, 6:22 AM | Updated: Sep 14, 2023, 8:02 am

Since it has been unusually dry this summer in Washington, Lake Washington’s water level is significantly lower than normal and steps are being taken to conserve water.

Without any expected September rainfall, the lake could fall below its normal mark of 20 feet for this time of year. Current projections suggest the lake water level could drop as low as 19.75 feet if conditions remain extremely dry for a prolonged period.

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While there is only a 40% chance of this happening, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking steps to conserve water by being even more efficient with the Ballard Locks.

Normally, the lake is kept at a water level between 20 and 22 feet. This year, the Corps was able to fill the lake to 21.85 feet, 0.15 feet lower than the target levels.

“Spring target levels help meet summer water use requirements, providing water necessary for fish passage, navigation, and salinity control. Water is slowly consumed throughout the summer until it reaches the winter level, typically in early December,” the Seattle District of the Army Corps of Engineers stated in an update.

Army Corps Engineer Kyle Comanor said there are a lot of different factors at play in responding to the problem and that they are taking steps to conserve water by being even more efficient with traffic in the Ballard Locks and the water coming in and out of the sound.

“If we do go to conditions that where we have to restrict commercial traffic, say, next month, it’s because we absolutely have to,” Comanor said, according to KIRO Newsradio. “We are reacting to very powerful forces, so all of these decisions are made with the entirety of this project in mind.”

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Comanor stated they will be decreasing the amount of water released from Lake Washington by maximizing lockage efficiency by increasing the number of recreational vessels in each locking and prioritizing the use of the small locks. As lake levels change, additional measures to conserve water could be implemented.

Comanor said our floating bridges are built to sustain minor changes in water level, but houseboat owners need to prepare for the even lower water levels that could be coming.

“We have already seen the impacts of climate change in summer temperatures, which are clearly increasing in this region,” Comanor said. “So even our baseline is moving when we are talking about normal; this is the new abnormal, and Lake Washington is no exception.”

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Army Corps of Engineers: Low Lake Washington water levels may limit boat traffic