Lake water eyed for habitat restoration

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SANDPOINT — Water from Lake Pend Oreille could be used to cool the Pend Oreille River downstream from Albeni Falls Dam in late summer under an agreement reached between the Kalispel Tribe of Indians and federal resource managers.

The Pend Oreille Basin Commission will scrutinize the agreement and its potential impacts when it meets on Thursday at Dover City Hall, located at 699 Lakeshore Ave. The meeting starts at 9 a.m.

The discussion will be preceded by a fishery update by the Idaho Department of Fish & Game and a presentation on efforts to restore the eroding Clark Fork Delta.

The Bonneville Power Administration announced the agreement with the Kalispell Tribe in July. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management are also party to the agreement, which aims to improve threatened bull trout and other cold-water fish habitat below the dam.

Under the agreement, the federal government will provide $39.5 million over the next 10 years, a sum which includes $2.5 million for land acquisition. The agreement also proposes altering water management in late summer and early fall, according to a BPA news release.

Temperature modeling is already being done to try and gauge how much of a boon Lake Pend Oreille water would be to bull trout below the dam, said Chip Corsi, Fish & Game’s Panhandle region supervisor.

“They’re going to take a look at what the temperature data are telling them right now and if you actually increase the volume of water through Albeni Falls Dam how much benefit would that buy in terms of cooling down the Pend Oreille River,” Corsi told the commission last month.

The agreement has raised some eyebrows in Bonner County because it could potentially lead to a lower-than-traditional lake level in late summer and early autumn. Moreover, the basin commission was not looped into the discussion prior to the agreement being reached.

“There wasn’t any thought to involving the stakeholders beforehand, apparently,” said Ford Elsaesser, chairman of the commission, which advises the state on water quality and quantity issues.

The agreement is part of ongoing work to mitigate the construction and inundation impacts of the dam since it was constructed in the 1950s.

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