BOISE – The water level at Lake Pend Oreille won’t drop until mid- to late September under an agreement reached by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration.
Talks about the water level in Idaho’s largest lake started last year with a proposal to release water from the lake in late summer to help federally protected bull trout downstream. Thousands of people signed petitions asking federal agencies to reconsider, and Otter wrote to BPA and Army Corps of Engineers officials asking for a plan to protect recreation and tourism.
“Working with our state, federal and tribal partners, as well as the many local citizens who commented on proposed lake operations, I am pleased to say that we have achieved a new process going forward that I think will maintain and enhance the scenic and recreational value of Lake Pend Oreille,” Otter said Monday.
He added, “This will give the public greater certainty about summer lake levels and the timing of any necessary drawdowns for flood control or other purposes; in addition, meeting the objectives will ensure that kokanee spawning nests or ‘redds’ near the shoreline are not left high and dry, and habitat for bull trout downstream is protected.”
The agreement covers operations of Albeni Falls Dam on the Pend Oreille River. While settling the issue of end-of-summer drawdowns, it doesn’t include any agreement to fill the lake more quickly in the spring. Federal authorities said flood-control factors are their top priority then.
But there is a promise of keeping the lake at its summer operating level of 2,062 to 2,062.5 feet of elevation through the third Sunday in September or Sept. 18, whichever date is later. The agencies also promised to make “reasonable efforts” to keep it above 2,061 feet through the fourth Sunday in September or Sept. 25, and to hold a stable pool for the popular Pend Oreille River Regatta college crew event that weekend.
“We feel very good, I think, about what we’ve been able to accomplish,” said Ford Elsaesser, chairman of the Pend Oreille Basin Commission, also known as the Lakes Commission. “We now have a firm understanding of what the September situation is going to be.”
And that’s the month the area often has its best weather, he said.
Albeni Falls Dam, which is operated by the Corps of Engineers, controls the level of Lake Pend Oreille; the BPA sells electricity generated at the dam.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.