Folks who live on North Idaho’s Cocolalla Lake, fish its waters and enjoy its seasons feel strongly about protecting its peaceful waters, year in and year out.
They’ve mobilized to clear invasive Eurasian milfoil from the lake, monitored its algae and pond weed, and gauged its ups and downs.
“The worst thing that can happen is to see the water going down,” said Chuck Gladish, a retired airline pilot from Western Washington who’s lived on the lake for the past 16 years and serves as president of the Cocolalla Lake Association.
Now a measure is pending in the Idaho Legislature to declare an official minimum lake level for Cocolalla Lake, with water rights to back it up appropriated by the Idaho Water Resources Board. The Idaho Senate is expected to vote on the resolution this morning, and its sponsor, state Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said she expects smooth sailing for it.
The push for the minimum lake level came from the association back in 2004 when there were threats from nearby developments to drain away the water that makes the lake what it is. Then the economy went south, and the potential water-grabbing developments evaporated, but the lake-level request continued working its way through the water resources system.
Joked Broadsword, “this is only eight years later they’re getting what they wanted.”
But she has high praise for the association. “It’s a fair-sized lake, it’s about 800 acres and it’s got public access; there’s a boat ramp,” Broadsword said. “The lake association is very active in improving water quality. They were one of the first ones to jump on the get-rid-of-the-milfoil bandwagon. They have been just really good stewards of the lake.”
The level of Cocolalla Lake usually varies just a few feet a year, with the low point in winter. “Last spring we saw it the highest we’ve ever seen it, and last summer we saw it the lowest we’ve ever seen it,” Gladish said. “If I could just wave a magic wand, I certainly wouldn’t want the lake to go any lower than it is now.”
That’s what the legislation provides for – a minimum lake elevation of 2,207.77 feet, which is where the lake settles when it’s at its natural low point. That’s a few feet down from the typical summer level, when boat docks on the lake’s gently sloping shore are more usable.
The state Water Resources Board found that a minimum lake level water right was warranted “to preserve recreation and aesthetics, and to protect and enhance water quality.”
At a public hearing in Sandpoint in October 2009, all the testimony was in favor of the move.
Gladish said, “The deepest part of the lake is only about 40, 45 feet. It’s not a deep lake at all.”
That’s part of the reason it’s popular for ice fishing. “They’re out fishing on it, and doing very well, incidentally,” Gladish reported. “From what I understand, they’re hauling in a lot of perch.”
The lake is also popular in summer for fishing, with trout stocked regularly over the past 40 years by Idaho Fish and Game; and for water-skiing, canoeing, kayaking, sailing and swimming. It’s about 10 miles south of Sandpoint, right by U.S. Highway 95.
“I can remember taking my kids ice fishing out there when they were little,” Broadsword said. “It’s a nice lake – it’s pretty.”