Group calls for higher winter pool

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SANDPOINT — The Oden Water Association is appealing to local, state and federal officials for Lake Pend Oreille to be held at a higher winter pool elevation to ensure its customers are not deprived of drinking water during adverse weather events.

The association, which supplies water to 1,200 homes, businesses and a public school, is asking for the winter pool elevation to be raised from 2,051 1/2 feet above sea level to 2,055 feet.

The request follows a New Year’s Day incident in which the association came perilously close to running out of water. The association said in a news release that single-digit temperatures and winds that day pushed ice into the association’s water supply intake, which caused it to jam up.

When the lake is drawn down to 2,051 1/2 feet, the intake is about 5 1/2 feet below the surface.

The association drew on its water reserves, but came with 24 hours of exhausting those supplies. The weather relented and normal operations were restored on Jan. 3.

“In the past, there have been other close calls when weather conditions turned seasonally cold,” Jule Kern said in the association’s news release.

A depressed winter pool is already sore spot for many in Bonner County because it inhibits recreational access to the lake. The U.S. Army Corps approved a Bonneville Power Administration plan to strategically store and release water from the lake to maximize its benefits for power generation, which has not been greeted warmly in Bonner County.

Flexible Winter Power Operations on the lake were not anticipated this winter because of a bank stabilization project on the Pend Oreille River at Laclede.

However, a warming trend thawed the project’s access road and led to the imposition of weight restrictions and a work stoppage.

The corps announced on Wednesday that it would begin holding back water in the lake because the stabilization project is on hold. Bonneville Power also asked the corps to store water at Albeni Falls Dam to facilitate a Bureau of Reclamation drum gate maintenance project at Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state.

Corps officials said that the lake is expected to rise by 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet by the end of February.

Flexible ops allows the lake to fill to up to an elevation of 2,056 feet, although the corps said a target elevation has not been identified.

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