Columbia River System Operations alternatives released

Lakes Commission releases questionnaire to gather opinions on lake levels

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration released several alternatives being considered for the Columbia River System Operations Update — a multi-year project for which the agencies are currently building an Environmental Impact Statement slated for release in February 2020.

Of the four alternatives presented in the most recent CRSO project update, “Multiple-objective 4 measures” has been a cause for concern for the local Lakes Commission. Commission coordinator Molly McCahon said the portion of the alternative that would increase flows downstream might have a direct effect on water levels for Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River.

That portion of the alternative reads: “Augment flow — up to 2 million acre-feet — in drier years from Grand Coulee Dam and other upstream reservoirs to more frequently meet the downstream flow target at McNary Dam to benefit ESA-listed anadromous species.” Because the lake is drafted to full capacity at all times of the year besides summer, McCahon said the Lakes Commission is concerned that such a measure could mean dropping the lake level during peak recreation season.

The Lakes Commission is gathering data through a questionnaire “in order to ensure our community’s interests are fully represented during this evaluation,” McCahon wrote in an email. As a cooperating agency on the CRSO project, the Lakes Commission was invited to provide data regarding the alternatives, and the questionnaire is how the commission is collecting that information.

Questions address whether the survey-taker owns lakefront property, has fixed or floating docks, what times of year they recreate on the water and how lower lake levels could affect them.

McCahon said the Lakes Commission will leave the questionnaire open after submitting data to the agencies and continue to collect answers to use when ultimately pursuing a full economic impact study of lake levels.

Access the questionnaire at

As for the EIS, agencies estimate a draft to be released in February 2020, after which the public will be welcome to comment for 45 days. Then, a final EIS should be released in June 2020 and records of decision from the three agencies shared on Sept. 30, 2020.

U.S. Army Corps officials said they could not comment on the project until the draft EIS is released.

Learn more about the alternatives and project updates by visiting

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