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Albeni Falls Dam operations to remain limited

by LAUREN REICHENBACH
Staff Writer | May 15, 2024 1:00 AM

OLDTOWN — Spill operations will remain restricted at Albeni Falls Dam for a while longer as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials continue to treat the base metal flaws and defects identified late last month on a spillway gate that was rehabilitated in June 2023.

The Albeni Falls spillway gates are original to the dam, constructed in 1955. Since the gates were fabricated at the same time using the same type of steel, USACE is developing a schedule to evaluate all gates and determine if similar defects exist as the one that was already identified.

“Current hydrologic modeling indicates maintaining current Lake Pend Oreille elevation until late May might be necessary,” said USACE public affairs officer Scott Lawrence. “Officials are monitoring real-time weather, streamflow trends and updating modeling predictions daily. Once lakeshore flood risk passes, USACE will operate to meet normal summer pool elevations as quickly as possible.”

Lake Commission executive director Molly McCahon said that while the commission respects the situation that USACE is in with attempting to maintain safety and structural soundness of the dam, members are counting on the engineers to “fully understand the situation before changing operations that may set a precedent going forward.”

McCahon said the commission is requesting that USACE be flexible and adjust their operations to ensure the lake fills to its normal summer pool levels as soon as possible.

“We are hearing loud and clear that with the low snowpack this year, folks are concerned,” she said.

However, USACE said that filling the lake immediately would not be a wise choice.

“We need to keep storage space available to guard against the potential for rain or snow events that can lead to sudden spring high inflows,” said Albeni Falls Dam operating project manager Amanda Smith. “The basin is extremely large, so there is a lot to consider when monitoring the conditions. These rain events can happen in any year, so we are being cautious during refill operations.”

After last weekend’s warm temperatures in the region, USACE is expecting to have more clarity on snowpack runoff levels and how that will affect the lake’s refill levels.

To sustain current lake elevations, Lawrence said the Corps may need to remove one gate this week when inflows are predicted to exceed full powerhouse capacity of approximately 30,000 cubic feet per second.

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.