Draft EIS released for Columbia River System update

Option to drop Lake Pend Oreille summer pool taken off the table

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration have released a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Columbia River System Operations Update. The multi-year project is meant to update operations, maintenance and configuration of the 14 federal dams that make up the Columbia River System — including Albeni Falls Dam.

Co-lead agencies on the project released four alternatives in October, detailing different ways in which the system could be updated to better accommodate fish populations while still providing power and economic opportunities. One alternative, meant to reallocate up to 2 million acre feet of water from upstream to meet the needs of salmon downstream, would have lowered Lake Pend Oreille’s summer pool by up to three feet. In response, the local Lakes Commission joined the project as a cooperating agency and expressed the need for the lake to remain at current summer operating level in order to protect recreational and economic interests.

The draft EIS shows that the agencies heard the Lakes Commission’s concerns, acknowledging outright that “in low water years, major adverse effects to water-based recreational access at Lake Pend Oreille Could occur” should they go forward with that particular alternative.

“We are grateful that the federal agencies listened to us and did not include [the drawdown measures] in the draft Preferred Alternative that is now out,” said Lakes Commission coordinator Molly McCahon. “We are currently reviewing this new and lengthy document and are not aware of any operational changes that will impact how the Albeni Falls Dam and Lake Pend Oreille are currently managed.”

McCahon said the Lakes Commission has invited the lead agencies to “provide a workshop or briefing” to North Idaho communities so that citizens have the chance to “ask questions and comment in a meaningful way.” 

“One way or another, we will provide an opportunity for the community to ask questions and we will provide resources for commenting,” McCahon said.

The review and comment period for the draft EIS began Feb. 28 and will run until Monday, April 13.

Access the document at crso.info. Those with questions for the Lakes Commission can call 208-263-5310 ext. 107 or email [email protected].

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