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Senators, congressman call out USACE

by LAUREN REICHENBACH
Staff Writer | June 11, 2024 1:00 AM

OLDTOWN — The issues at Albeni Falls Dam reached federal levels last week after senators James Risch and Mike Crapo, as well as Congressman Russ Fulcher, called on the Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize the matter.

In April, defects in one of the spillway gates were discovered, causing the limitation of operations at the dam and lowered lake levels. The delay in Lake Pend Oreille reaching its regular summer pool has caused frustration throughout the county, which relies on the lake for business as well as summer recreation.

The defect, the officials said, causes “long-term uncertainty” in the future of both the lake levels as well as the river levels.

“This situation is extremely concerning to us and we urge the Corps of Engineers to devote all necessary resources to resolve this situation as soon as safely possible,” the congressmen said in the statement.

Albeni Falls Dam provides flood control, energy production and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike, the trio said. Since 1955, the dam has played a role in Columbia River system management and the bodies of water it regulates help fuel the regional economy.

“It is of great interest to us and our constituents how dam operations will be affected by the discovery of the defects in the spillway gate,” the trio said. “While we commend the Corps for ongoing communications with our offices and the public, there are still many uncertainties the Corps should work to address. The timeline for returning the dam to regular operations is chief among them.”

The men urged USACE staff to mark this issue as their highest priority. Returning the dam to normal operations should happen in the shortest possible time, they said, while also prioritizing public safety.

“Tens of thousands of people depend on Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River for their recreation and livelihoods, not to mention those who live on these bodies of water,” they said. “If the dam remains at modified spillway operations into next year, these people, as well as the management of the overall Columbia River system, will be severely impacted.”

The trio said they look forward to hearing USACE’s plans for returning the dam to regular operations and reaching the lake’s summer pool as soon as possible.

According to Lakes Commission executive director Molly McCahon, staff are encouraged that the issues impacting Bonner County have reached state levels and are being addressed seriously.

“Obviously, we are still awaiting the action plan for resolving this issue quickly, and there is plenty more work to do, but this is a step in the right direction,” she said.

As of June 10, Lake Pend Oreille’s elevation levels, measured in Hope, are at 2,060.41 feet. Albeni Falls Dam’s outflow is currently 32,000 cubic feet per second, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Upper Columbia senior water manager Leon Basdekas. The dam’s outflow was expected to be increased to 34,000 cubic feet per second last night around 11 p.m.

“One spillway gate remains fully open and flow adjustments are being made through the powerhouse,” Basdekas said. “We are currently operating with spill gate restrictions. The currently planned operation is to reach 2,061.0 feet around 13 June. We anticipate being at summer pool around 20 June.”

Basdekas said that while that is the plan, things may change depending on flooding risks and summer pool could be reached sooner or later depending on those risks.

To receive email notifications for Albeni Falls Dam outflow changes and near-term lake elevation projections, email uppercolumbiawm@usace.army.mil and request to be added.