November 23, 2010 in Idaho

Lake Pend Oreille’s winter level to rise, fall mildly

Steeper fluctuations are focus of federal study
By The Spokesman-Review

Lake Pend Oreille’s water level will fluctuate by only a foot this winter, while federal agencies analyze a controversial plan to raise and lower the lake as much as five feet to boost downstream electrical generation.

“What we’re doing this winter is pretty much what we normally do,” said Patricia Graesser, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman in Seattle.

But bigger changes are “still on the table” for discussion, she said.

To help meet peak electrical demands, the Bonneville Power Administration has proposed running more water through Albeni Falls Dam, which controls water levels in Lake Pend Oreille. About 16 hours after the water flows through Albeni Falls Dam, it reaches the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River.

The strategic storage and release of Lake Pend Oreille’s flows could be worth millions of dollars in electrical generation, BPA officials said. They want permission to draft the lake’s winter water levels by up to 6 inches daily, within a 5-foot range.

North Idaho residents and state lawmakers have expressed concerns about potential damage to docks and commercial marinas. Idaho Fish and Game officials said the plan could speed up erosion of the Clark Fork and Pack River deltas, damage duck habitat and hasten the spread of noxious weeds, such as milfoil.

An environmental assessment of the plan will be out in April or May, said Michael Milstein, a BPA spokesman.

Meanwhile, the corps plans to keep lake levels at 2,055 to 2,055.5 feet above sea level until kokanee salmon finish spawning, which usually wraps up in late December.

Through the rest of the winter, the target elevation for the lake will be 2,055 to 2,056 feet.

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