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Lake could fluctuate by 5 feet

TUESDAY, DEC. 8, 2009

Sandpoint sits on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille in this Oct. 4 photo taken  from Schweitzer Mountain. (Jesse Tinsley)
Sandpoint sits on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille in this Oct. 4 photo taken from Schweitzer Mountain. (Jesse Tinsley)

BPA seeks change in Pend Oreille use

Lake Pend Oreille’s water levels could fluctuate by up to 5 feet this winter. The change would allow Albeni Falls Dam to produce more electricity, but it also is likely to erode shorelines, shift docks and damage habitat for waterfowl.

The Bonneville Power Administration requested changes in the lake’s operation to help meet peak electrical demand during the winter months. Albeni Falls Dam supplies about 15,000 homes with electricity when it’s operating at capacity.

“Even though the dam generates a relatively small amount of power, it can be important at certain times,” said Michael Milstein, a BPA spokesman.

Water releases from Lake Pend Oreille would also benefit operations at downstream dams.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates Albeni Falls Dam, is considering BPA’s request. The issue will be discussed tonight at a meeting in Sandpoint.

“We have to make a decision soon, but we’re still gathering information,” said Nola Leyde, a corps spokeswoman.

Millstein said the proposed operating schedule wouldn’t harm Lake Pend Oreille’s struggling kokanee population. The landlocked salmon finish spawning in December, when lake levels are at their lowest. The water would remain high enough to cover incubating kokanee eggs during later lake fluctuations.

But other wildlife habitat could be affected. Large numbers of diving ducks spend their winters in the Lake Pend Oreille watershed. Constantly changing water levels would further erode the Pack River and Clark River deltas, which are important habitat areas for waterfowl as well as native fish, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game wrote in a letter to BPA.

The erosion could also spread noxious weeds, including milfoil and flowering rush.

Potential effects on docks and marinas are also a concern, Tom and Marjorie Trulock said in a letter to BPA. The couple moor about 25 boats year-round at Heitman Docks at Glengary on Lake Pend Oreille.

Changing water levels could damage the docks and uproot pilings, they said. They’re also worried about ice sheets breaking free and battering the shoreline.

BPA officials said the lake would rise and fall by no more than 6 inches per day.

The proposed changes will be discussed from 7 to 8:30 tonight at a meeting at Sandpoint High School, 410 S. Division St.

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