The Green Lake Dam, as seen in a 2008 file photo. As water levels begin to drop, the city has renewed its call for Sitkans to conserve electricity. (File photo)

Sitka | Water levels are starting to drop at the two lakes used to generate hydropower for Sitka, prompting the city to amplify its call for conservation as the community heads into the winter.

Bitty Balducci is with the Sitka Conservation Society. She’s working with the city’s Electrical Department to track lake levels and report them to the public. She said Wednesday that Green Lake was 19 feet below full – no change from the week before – and Blue Lake is 13 feet below full. That’s a drop of one foot from last week. Balducci says the lakes levels are expected to trend downward in the near future.

“What people might be thinking is ‘Hey, it’s been raining a lot. Why are the levels going down?'” she said. “But the fact of the matter is, up in the mountains, it’s turning into snow before it can reach the lakes. So it’s actually not adding all the water that we hoped it would.”

In addition to tracking lake levels, the city also predicts how much money in additional diesel fuel will be needed to supplement Sitka’s electrical demand between now and May. Last week the number was $1.2 million. This week, the projection increased to $1.6 million, provided Sitka gets average rainfall for the rest of the season. But Balducci says that number could change depending on what the rain does.

“Worst case scenario is if we have 90 percent of the average rainfall that we do from here on out in the year, we’re looking at about $2.15 million in diesel supplementation. Which is a lot. More than what we’re projecting right now,” she said. “The minimum, if we get 110 percent of the average rainfall we do from here on out, we’re looking at a half a million dollars.”

The city continues urging residents to conserve energy. Balducci says one of the best ways is to adjust the temperature in your home, especially during times you’re not home. She says a small adjustment can make a big difference, not only for the city’s power supply, but for customers’ bills.

“If you turn that down about 2 to 4 degrees for eight hours a day, you can save about 10 percent on your space heating. Also, hot water heating – simple things like turning your thermostat on your hot water heater and your dishwasher to 120 degrees can save a lot of energy,” she said. “Brushing off dishes in the trash can as opposed to using hot water to spray them down before putting them in the dishwasher … anything that uses heat uses a lot of energy. Keep that in mind. And if you minimize that you can minimize the amount of energy you use.”

Meanwhile, Balducci says officials are hoping that more rain will help them make up some ground.