LPO Fall Drawdown

20170831-IMG_4757-2The top foot of Lake Pend Oreille will begin its trek to the Columbia River Monday, September 18th.  From there, it won’t be lowered more than a foot before September 25th or the 4th weekend and will begin its full drawdown around October 1st.  It is anticipated to be lowered to its lowest level of 2051 – 2051.5 by November 15th (when Kokanee typically begin lake spawning).

Historically the lake began its drop right after labor day, which many felt was too early as there are still weeks of prime boating and fishing left in September. In 2014, the State of Idaho struck a verbal deal with the US Army Corp of Engineers for a later drawdown. This agreement says the Corp will begin drawdown September 18th or the 3rd weekend in September, whichever is later, unless emergency conditions present themselves.

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Full Agenda for Lakes Commission Meeting April 6th



By Ford Elsaesser, Chairman

On behalf of the Lake Pend Oreille, Pend Oreille River, Priest Lake, Priest River Commission (“LAKES COMMISSION”), I would like to invite the public to join the LAKES COMMISSION for its spring meeting at the historic Beardmore Building in downtown Priest River on Friday, April 6, 2018.  Attached is the agenda.

Numerous issues of public concern from the Priest Lake Thorofare, to the proposed Silica Smelter, to a discussion with regard to rail safety and local emergency response, all make for a packed agenda, which can be obtained here. 

Thanks to the efforts of our area legislators, and particularly Sen. Shawn Keough, this has been a very productive year for “lake issues” at the recently concluded legislative session in Boise.  The statutory charter creating the LAKES COMMISSION was broadened to include our ability to be involved in the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty, including the ability to have professional representation on behalf of the LAKES COMMISSION “at the table” when these critical Columbia River Treaty negotiations begin.  There will always be nearly year-round demand for water and storage capacity at Lake Pend Oreille, and those demands nearly always conflict with the recreational lake levels that we believe were guaranteed by the federal legislation enabling the Albeni Falls Dam.  With expanded jurisdiction and additional funding, we look forward to making sure our region’s voices are heard in the Columbia River Treaty renegotiations.

In the critical dry summer of 2015, the LAKES COMMISSION convened an emergency meeting at Hills Resort in Priest Lake, during a time when the Priest River nearly went dry.  That meeting in conjunction with efforts of the Idaho Water Resources Board, as well as the efforts of Steve Klatt on behalf of the Bonner County Commissioners, resulted in a two-year project to both restore good access to the Upper Lake with regard to the Thorofare, and provide improvements to the Outlet Dam that would allow more water to be stored at Priest Lake in dry years, which in turn would ensure decent streamflow for the Priest River.  I am pleased to advise that both the Thorofare project and the Outlet Dam project, again due to the leadership of Sen. Keough, Representative Dixon and our other legislators, as well as Dale Van Stone from the Idaho Water Resource Board, have resulted in projects that will commence very soon. These projects will greatly benefit the residents, visitors, and businesses of Priest Lake, as well as all of those who enjoy the Priest River during the summer months.

Other important issues for this coming Friday’s meeting include the Cold Water Bypass concept for the Priest Lake outlet, and an aquatic invasive species update, including the plans for checkpoints for 2018, to continue to prevent zebra mussels and other invasive species, and keep them away from our beautiful lakes and rivers.

Please join us in Priest River at the Beardmore Building in Priest River at 9 am this coming Friday, April 6.  Refreshments and snacks will be provided, and we look forward to a lively meeting.


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Columbia River Treaty – Canada agrees to negotiate.

The Columbia River Basin is so vast it can be difficult to grasp its extent and significance. It encompasses five U.S. States, one Canadian Province, 15 tribal reservations, and nine homelands of First Nations in Canada.  There are approx 450 dams in Columbia River Basin, including Albeni Falls Dam on the Pend Oreille River, that provide water, hydropower, flood control, and recreational benefit.  All of this is governed by an international treaty with Canada called the Columbia River Treaty.

Signed in 1964, the foundation of the treaty is to manage the Columbia River Basin for hydropower and flood control as if there were no boundaries.  As such, four dams were constructed: three in British Columbia, Canada (Duncan, Mica, Keenlyside) and one in Montana in the U.S. (Libby). The Columbia River Treaty dams more than doubled the amount of reservoir storage in the basin.  Since ratified, our region has developed some the cheapest hydropower in the world and eliminated massive flooding.

The Columbia River Treaty can be terminated by either country after 2024 with 10 years notice (2014). That didn’t happen and since then the U.S. has been working to bring Canada to the table in order to negotiate a “modernized” treaty.  From the U.S. perspective, this means; redefining the Canadian Entitlement, a claim for half of the power produced at U.S. dams and the storage benefit of three Canadian dams, updating language on flood risk-risk mitigation and hydropower generation and adding ecosystem-functions (fisheries were not considered in the original agreement).  The U.S. recommendations drafted in 2013 by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration included four states, 11 federal agencies and 15 Native American tribes and other stakeholders.

Unless it is officially extended, in 2024, the treaty will change its current flood management agreement to what is known as “called upon”  Called upon means there will be no guaranteed flood control from Canada, as there is now, and the U.S. will need to utilize all related U.S. reservoirs that would be effective in controlling flooding on the Columbia River before they ask Canada for storage.

Up until several weeks ago, Canada has shown little interest in negotiating.  However, on December 7, 2017, Canada informed the U.S. State Department that they have their negotiating mandate, have appointed a negotiator – Silvain Fabi and will begin negotiations in 2018.  The U.S also has a negotiator, Jill Smail, who will be visiting Idaho December 20th. We will be posting detailed information on that visit when they have been finalized.

It is difficult to summarize the Columbia River Treaty with all the issues and viewpoints connected to it, so I have attached this link as a basic resource for those wanting further information.  There are, however, numerous resources available on the subject.

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What is that Red Stuff on the Water?

EWM off LB 2017 2

Don’t worry, it is not “red algae” and it is not an immediate threat to wildlife or water quality.  It is Eurasian watermilfoil, an aquatic invasive species.   If you have lived here for any length of time, you have likely heard people talk about milfoil. While Eurasian watermilfoil, referred to as EWM for short, has a stronghold throughout Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River, this year there is a particularly large and obvious patch that you can see from the north end of the long bridge. There are numerous aquatic plants in the system, but EWM has a distinguishing red hue that can help identify it.  Idaho Department of Agriculture (ISDA) is the agency that manages aquatic invasive species for the State, and they will be surveying the area to develop a plan of attack.

Over time, if not controlled, invasive plants become very dense and take over diverse and less dense aquatic habitats, creating a monoculture. When large amounts of aquatic biomass breakdown it depletes dissolved oxygen in the water, which in turn, is a threat to fish.  Local, state and federal water managers worked diligently to eradicate Eurasian watermilfoil, for about 7 years.  However, several years ago, it fell from the state’s “eradication” list to the “control” list, due to its tenacious nature.  This means that instead of trying to treat the whole Pend Oreille Basin, they will focus on high use areas such as busy boat launches, public swim areas and small bays deemed especially problematic.  Boat launches are targeted because boats are the main pathway for spreading EWM (and other invasives). Spreading by just a tiny plant fragment, boat props exacerbate the problem by chopping it up.  Plants also attach to boat props and trailers, where they can be moved to other areas of the lake or waterbodies.

Eurasian watermilfoil is not the only aquatic invasive species (AIS) of concern in the Pend Oreille Basin.  Flowering Rush is fast becoming the most challenging aquatic plant in the system.  Please keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up post on Flowering Rush.

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