By Ken Hagman and Allan Songstad
An article in The Spokesman-Review by Eli Francovich (Aug. 28) stated that the Idaho Fish and Game’s proposal for installing a cold water siphon in Priest Lake was meeting “unexpected opposition” by the Priest Lake community. However, judging by the continued outcry of many hundreds of concerned people having ties to the Lake, the opposition is anything but “unexpected.” In fact, since Fish and Game first introduced its proposal over four years ago, many people have been working to bring awareness to the myriad reasons why we should all be alarmed about the potential for undesirable consequences of disturbing our pristine lake. Many of us feel that Fish and Game simply does not want to hear these very real concerns.
To name just a few of the most notable concerns:
1. The proposed 5-foot-diameter pipe would be largely buried for over half of its total 8,000-foot length, gouging out a huge trench from the existing dam all the way through Match Bay and into Outlet Bay. That process would require disrupting over 12,000 cubic yards (1,000 dump truck loads) of lake bed, creating massive sedimentation issues along with leaving a very unsightly installation visible for over a mile in length. Studies have not been conducted to determine how much of the outlet channel travels over solid bedrock, which would create another serious problem for trenching and disruption.
2. Once installed and operational, the siphon would draw cold water from the lower depths of Priest Lake, and the potential for harming the Lake’s delicate natural balance is very concerning. Further, the siphon would divert 75% of the normal summer flows going through Outlet Bay and the dam. The entire outlet channel and much of Outlet and Coolin bays would be at great risk of dangerously increased temperatures caused by the warmer surface waters stagnating in the bays as a result of diverting the normal flow. The potential for harmful algae blooms and other aquatic growths would be greatly increased. Although Fish and Game experts opined that there would be minimal risk such an algae bloom did occur in 2021.
3. The concept computer model presented by Fish and Game supposedly proved that the siphon would provide adequate cold water desperately needed to turn Priest River into a cold water fishery by providing suitable conditions for the endangered native bull trout and cutthroat trout. However, close scrutiny of Fish and Game models and suppositions shows that optimal temperatures would only be reached in the first 4 or 5 miles of the 45-mile river. Further, the model was based upon only a one-year temperature study. Such a limited study was apparently designed to produce desired results rather than more realistic numbers. In fact, the limited data cannot be validated professionally. This sheds serious doubt on the siphon’s capability to noticeably improve the habitat for over 90% of the river’s length.
In fact, Fish and Game owned up to the inadequacies of the siphon concept, which was also included in the Aug. 28 edition of The Spokesman-Review. In that article, they admit that the siphon would not achieve optimal temperatures for most of the river, but instead “might” increase the survival rate of the target species. This confirms our position. And we ask, “What happens to those fish when we have a very hot year, like 2015 and 2021? Wouldn’t an event like that wipe out those target fish increases?”
4. Idaho Fish and Game originally proposed the siphon concept as the best way to enhance the fishing in Priest River, thereby propagating a “high value” fishery that would bring perhaps 3 to 4 million (later reduced to 1.5 million) recreational dollars into our area; however, their calculations simply do not stand up to realistic considerations such as river access, number of fisherman required to produce $1.5 million or their anticipated expenditures. Not to mention that Fish and Game has stated that they would not jumpstart the enhancement by planting fish; rather they would allow natural rehabilitation of the fishery which could take 10 years, if ever. Especially, considering that far less than optimal temperatures will remain in the river. This is a serious problem since Fish and Game’s engineers estimate a 20-year useful life for the siphon system. The siphon concept would not even remove Priest River from its current status as a temperature-impaired river. That doesn’t sound like much of a return on investment, especially considering the proposed siphon could cost in excess of $20 million in today’s dollars.
For all those reasons stated above, plus many more other valid negative issues, the stakeholders and users of this wonderful pristine lake refuse to stand by and allow another potentially ill-fated Fish and Game experiment to harm our treasured waters. Should these objections be labeled “unexpected opposition”? Are these “bogus claims,” as asserted by now retired Idaho Fish and Game manager Chip Corsi? We think not! We believe that if a private entity were to propose something as outlandish as the siphon, and especially with such narrow parameters of modeling and testing, that every agency and fishing advocacy group imaginable would be raising the roof over the inadequacies of this proposal. We feel that Fish and Game must be brought back to the table to hear and address these very real issues before any further progress begins towards this concept.
The forefront of our opposition is being led by the members of Stop the Priest Lake Siphon, a broad-based advocacy group of Priest Lake stakeholders. Our Board of Directors has local business operators, cabin owners, professionals of several walks and long-term Priest Lake residents, most of whom are avid fishermen. And while we remain resolute in our mission, we also openly welcome the opportunity to participate in a much needed watershed group to explore realistic ways to improve the Priest River in ways that will not cause harm to Priest Lake.
For more information on our position or desired input, please visit our webpage at stopthepriestlakesiphon.org.
Ken Hagman is a lifelong Priest Lake resident and business owner, and Allan Songstad is a Priest Lake resident.