Corps, tribe mull experimental drawdowns

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SANDPOINT — Although a pre-Labor Day experimental drawdown of Lake Pend Oreille is not anticipated this year, there is still a chance that an experimental drawdown could occur after the holiday, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

However, the extent of a post-Labor Day experimental drawdown or its feasibility remain unclear.

“We’ve got to get through all of the preliminary work first to see whether or not it’s even going to work using the computer models. We’re not real heavy on the details just yet,” said A. Scott Lawrence, a corps spokesman in Seattle.

The corps and Kalispel Tribe of Indians are studying the release of water from the lake via Albeni Falls Dam in August and September, when temperatures in the Pend Oreille River can be lethal to endangered bull trout and native westslope cutthroat trout.

The study is part of an agreement reached last year between the corps, the tribe, the Bonneville Power Administration and Bureau of Reclamation.

Corps scientists are currently evaluating data and refining models to assess relationships between possible operational adjustments and downstream water temperature. The agency is contemplating an experimental post-Labor Day release to assess its influence on downstream temperatures.

Lawrence said such an experimental drawdown could be incremental.

A pre-Labor Day drawdown is not in the cards for 2013, according to Lawrence.

The prospect of late summer or early fall drawdowns has raised concerns in Bonner County due to the potential impact on recreation on Lake Pend Oreille.

The Pend Oreille Basin Commission was briefed Monday on the status of the drawdown analysis and Lawrence said the corps expects to have a clearer idea what the drawdowns could look like this summer.

Lawrence said the corps intends to give a follow-up presentation to the commission when it meets again this summer.

The commission has been monitoring the issue and board members have met with tribal officials. However, the commission has yet to take any action.

Erin Mader, the commission’s program coordinator, said the board does not want to see a significant drawdown prior to Labor Day or immediately after.

However, the commission does have a shared interest in aiding native fish populations.

“If there’s room to improve native fish habitat while not really impacting recreation, I think that would be our choice,” said Mader.

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